Haaf Netting in Cumbria

Haaf Netting in Cumbria

Haaf Netting in the Solway Estuary
Haaf netting on the Eden / Solway Estuary.. Photo by Simon Ledingham.

Haaf, or heave, netting is a traditional and long-established method of fishing for salmon and sea trout on the rivers of the North West, notably the Lune and Ribble. It also takes place on the Solway estuary. It dates back to the Vikings who raided and sometimes settled in the area at the end of the 1st millennium. It was in common use in the early 19th century.
The word “haaf” means “sea net” which is mounted on a rectangular frame 18 feet long by 5 feet high, supported by three legs. This frame is placed across the current by a fisherman standing behind the net in the cold water and holding the central upright. Fishermen walk out into the flat, shallow waters of the Solway sands and mudflats and place the Haaf Net in front facing either the incoming (“flood”) or outgoing (“ebb”) tides. The net streams out in the water and bags, or pokes, form in the net. As soon as a fish swims into the net the legs of the frame are allowed to float to the surface thereby trapping the fish, which is disabled by a blow from a wooden club called a nep, priest or killer. A rope is threaded through the gills of the fish, using a wooden needle, and tied to the waist of the fisherman until he returns to the shore.
Haaf Netting in the Solway Estuary
Haaf netting on the Solway Estuary. Photo by Mike Faulkner

Haaf nets are permitted only on the Solway and nowhere else. The fishermen of the Solway jealously guard their right to fish with haaf nets. However, because it is exclusive to the Solway, there has been much litigation over the years as to what haaf-netting is. Therefore, the right to define haaf-netting is a very sensitive issue.
Today, haaf-net fishermen and women are licensed by the Environment Agency to help protect fish stocks. Licence discs are fixed to each net frame. Only 150 licences are allowed each year and the Environment Agency, unlike its Scottish equivalent on the North shore, is trying to restrict and even halt this ancient local practice. The local fight to defend this traditional fishery is a David & Goliath struggle between a small rural community and the bureaucrats of Government and major corporations.
Haaf netting on the Solway Estuary.
Haaf netting on the Solway Estuary. Photo by Simon Ledingham.

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