Inside an Ancient Fishing Technique That’s Still Feeding People Today

Beach seine netting has fed the people of the Seychelles probably since they first arrived here, and their ancestors elsewhere for millennia before that. (Photo by Manu San Felix)

These days we might spend a fortune on carbon-fiber, Kevlar, stainless steel, highly tuned, expensive fishing gear. And let’s face it, it feels good to have the latest kit, but when it comes to actually catching fish for a living then it’s useful to remember that you don’t need much—only a couple of friends, a simple net, the knowledge of where the fish might be. And in my experience, it helps to be hungry!

All these lessons came home as we arrived in the Seychelles for the latest Pristine Seas expedition this week. We’re here to study and film the incredibly abundant and diverse life under the waves, but we know well that the things down there, feed the people up on land. Thankfully, here the local communities practice age-old techniques in sustainable ways (read the first post).

To get fresh mackerel to the local market the fishermen at Beau Vallon use beach seine netting—a wonderful thing to be part of. It’s simple, profitable, and because the Seychellois know their seas so well, it’s sustainable.

(Photo by Manu San Felix)
The materials are new, but the actions are old. (Photo by Manu San Felix)

We have been beach seine netting since the Stone Age and after eleven thousand years the only thing that has changed is that the nets are now made from lightweight nylon rather than flax, grass, and root fibers.

The technique is exactly the same. As we watched, an ancient tradition continued before our eyes. The pirogue was heaved into the surf, rowed 100 yards out and then parallel to the beach until instinct and experience told them where to drop the seaward central part of the net. Ropes fastened to each end of the net were then brought ashore about 200 yards apart. Three men held each rope and facing the sea they love, they began a rhythmic, steady, powerful pull. It’s a big net dragging a lot of water combined with the weight of the catch so only the relentless pressure of this pull can bring the net in.

As the net, still under the waves, came closer to shore, the fishermen moved closer together. With all the fish jumping at the surface it was clear they had a big catch. Soon the net emerged and was slowly dragged up the beach full of wonderful mackerel.

(Photo by Neil Gelinas)
It doesn’t get much fresher than this. (Photo by Neil Gelinas)

There is no shouting or rushing around in this type of fishing. It’s slow, purposeful, and peaceful—work as old as humanity itself naturally synchronized to the ancient rhythms of the ocean. This kind of fishing isn’t too far off from what large predators extract from the ocean themselves, and it’s a far cry from the mechanized industrial work of big fleets throughout the ocean.

With sustainable local practices like these, humans and marine life can live in harmony, and benefit each other in many ways.

Read All Pristine Seas: Seychelles Posts


This expedition is led by National Geographic in collaboration with the Seychelles Island Foundation (SIF), the Island Conservation Society (ICS), the Islands Development Company (IDC) and the Waitt Foundation.

Thanks to Pristine Seas sponsors Blancpain and Davidoff Cool Water.

Changing Planet


Meet the Author
Paul Rose is an ardent explorer, television presenter, journalist, author, and Vice President of the Royal Geographical Society, and an Expedition Leader on the Pristine Seas team.