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Are Fishing Nets Made of Plastic? If Not, What?

Plastic fishing nets with floaters.

Modern-day fishing nets are made from a combination of nylons and plastics or polyamides. Polyamides are a group of plastics that range in properties, such as Nylon 6,6 or Nylon 6,12. Since nylon is stronger and non-biodegradable, it poses a danger to sea creatures.

Fishing nets, made from nylon plastic, are known to entrap fish and other sea creatures for years. However, nylons’ many uses allow the material to be woven into clothing, which must be chemically treated to protect humans from physical harm.

Although some traditional fishermen may continue to use rope or nylon fishnets, there are significant changes in the way fishing nets are made today. These changes are made to keep up with the demands of commercial fishing industries that supply ample amounts of fish to seafood markets, local stores, and other merchants.

You may be surprised to know that we were not the first humans to invent the fishing net. Our ancestors were smart, intelligent, and creative. They found a way to catch fish without using their hands, and today, we continue to follow in their footsteps.

A Little History of Ancient Fishing Nets

A fisher man mending a fishing net.

Before 1960, fishing nets were constructed with rope fibers. Rope fibers are made from non-decomposable materials. These fibers would unravel and find themselves floating in the middle of the ocean. Because of these misfortunate incidents, millions of aquatic mammals lose their lives as they become entangled in the world of nylon ghost nets.

However, these deadly nets are still in the ocean, and they continue to be a constant threat to fishes and other aquamarine mammals.

Compared to previous fishing nets, today’s nets are more durable, weigh less, and are inexpensive. The history of fishing nets is interesting as they are traced back to 8300 BC. During that period in history, fishing nets were made from a material called willow.

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However, drawings in rock caves in Norway which date back to 4200-500 BC show cravings for what some believe to be the construction of early fishing nets. Native Americans were more creative, as they implemented nettles, spruce root fibers, grass, and cedar bark to make their nets. Rocks were used as weights and wood served as floaters.

If you have ever watched some of the old movies, you may have seen a fisherman casting a net over the edge of a boat. Depending on the time in history, the fishing nets could have been made from wool or silk, or a combination of fabrics. These nets were huge, and it took more than one person to toss them overboard.

The larger the net, the more fish fishermen could catch, which meant that the nets had to be strong.

Fishing Net Materials

A group of fisherman pulling a nylon fishing net.

Modern-day fishing nets are created from a dozen types of machine-made and organic materials. Vegetable fibers such as cotton, manila, flax, and sisal provide a safer and healthier alternative for both the oceans and the creatures they inhabit. In addition, fishing nets are also made from man-made materials like nylon, polyethylene, polyester, and polypropylene.

Every so often, people, companies, manufacturers, and seafarers produce what they believe to be a better solution to catching fish or seafood. The materials they choose, may or may not be the best choice when it comes to protecting the environment.

However, the main goal is to make a product that can hold the number of fish they caught. As strong as plastic materials are, they should not be, and they are not the ultimate choice for constructing fishing nets.

The Problem with Plastic Fishing Nets

Fishing nets tangled with waste plastic bottle.

Everyone sees things differently, and those who oppose plastic fishing nets may already know the cons of using fishing nets made from plastic. Firstly, plastic breaks down into hundreds or thousands of tiny pieces of plastic that never dissolve. This means that plastic waste lies dormant on the bottom of the sea or continues to float in the ocean.

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Fish and other sea life inadvertently wander into these plastic traps and often die. Fish do provide a source of food for those that are hungry, but the fishes that never make it inside a freshly tossed net are left struggling and trapped inside a net that was left behind years or decades ago.

I often go to the fishing pier in my town and watch the fishes jump to the top of the water and go back under. For me, this is both exciting and fascinating. However, when I walk a little further down the ocean side, I can see dozens of abandoned fishing nets on the ocean shore.

If these were to find their way into the ocean, hundreds of fishes and sea-life mammals would not be able to escape the strong indispensable material that holds these nets together. Instead of throwing the nets back in the ocean, I toss them in the trash. I might not be able to save all the creatures of the sea, but knowing that I have saved some, gives me relief.

Ghost Nets Remain Undetected for Decades

Ghost net left in the sea and dead corals.

To be honest, fishermen are not out looking for ghost nets, and many do not know they are there. Imagine going fishing in the middle of the deep sea, and you feel a tug on your line. You know you have caught the fish of your life. From the weight at the other end of the pole, it feels like a huge fish.

You pull up your prize with all the strength you can muster only to find out you have pulled up sixty pounds of ghost net. How disappointing this is. You have no idea that these nets have been circulating in the ocean for so many years, and now you must face the fact, that millions of fish are caught in these deadly traps every day, and their chances of escape are almost, if not impossible.

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However, these sea mammals do not escape, but instead, they become entangled in the web of nets, leaving them prey for larger sea creatures. Plastic-made ghost nets are still around, but not in abundance as they once were when they were first introduced.

This is a clear indication of why plastic nets should not be used in the fishing industry. If you decide to buy a fishing net, do research, and decide which is the best option for you. If you are concerned about the environment or the well-being of our oceans, you might consider using fishing nets made from organic materials. Materials that are biodegradable are safe and economical.

Plastic and Nylon Nets

Brown and green nylon fishing net.

There are no one or two types of fishing nets, nor are they made from one or two types of materials. Everything in the world of invention is trial and error. When early fishermen made their first fishing nets, it was perfect or at least doable for them at that time in history. As time progressed, so did the need to reinvent better nets.

Each period in history added its own unique spin to the creation of the perfect fishing net. Even today, the need to create the ultimate fishing net is still ongoing. Nevertheless, no one will ever be satisfied with just one solution. Therefore, whether it be plastic or nylon, there will always be someone who believes that they have invented the best fishing net ever.