Queen of knots

Mending fishing nets

Meet the dedicated woman and her team who are on a mission to mend.

In the world of fishing, none other than the humble fishing net is top dog. Not only do 10% of communities around the world rely on the fishing industry for their livelihood, but 3.3 billion people derive at least 20% of their daily protein intake from fish*.

And that’s where net restoration specialist Samantha Achilles and her team of 15 come into play. Because keeping fishing nets in good repair is crucial in safeguarding the commercial viability of fishing expeditions. No matter how high the nets’ quality or how skilful the people using them, damage can and will occur. So repairs need to be done speedily to return the damaged fishing net to service. After all, a damaged net doesn’t put fish on the table.

An age-old craft

To keep the vibrancy and mastery of the venerable net mending movement alive, its art has been passed down to Samantha and many of her team members over generations. She herself was taught the intricacies of bights interwoven by sheet-bend hitches by her grandmother and great-grandmother – plying her trade at Norsenet in Vredenburg for many years. But five years ago was the turning point. With fiery single-mindedness she zeroed in on her own net restoration business for Eigelaar Marine in Laaiplek.

“It’s intensive work for about four weeks at a time,” she said. “Tools of the trade are being dab hands at tying sheet bend and thumb knots, good mending and sewing needles, mending twine, shears …. and hardened skin on the hands for handling harsh salt-soaked netting!”

Watching the team, it’s evident that their hands are well-practised: muscle memory seeking out the holes and then creating a symmetrical box to maintain the net’s structural integrity. “The work is actually very therapeutic,” Samantha added. “It’s a case of ‘Mending nets, mending hearts’”.

Doing the right thing

Keeping nets in good repair isn’t only a financial necessity for commercial fishing companies, but it’s also a major social responsibility issue. World-wide, there’s growing concern about the damage done to marine habitats by discarded fishing equipment – particularly nets.

The latter presents a mortal threat to whales, dolphins, turtles, invertebrates, crustaceans and other sea life. Countless photos on the internet of wounded whales, decapitated seals and fish are unbearably disturbing. Therefore, we laud those companies that repair their equipment instead of replacing, as well as disposing of fishing nets beyond repair responsibly.

When the fishermen are back hauling in their catches with the repaired nets, Samantha and many team members spend time knitting crayfish nets. Others gut snoek to supplement incomes.

At home in St Helena Bay, Samantha makes sure this noble craft isn’t swept out to sea by teaching 10-year-old granddaughter Keaker Arendse the art of net restoration.

“I was born with a passion for the cherished fishing life. Which is why as a young girl, I knew that net mending was my future. Moreover, taking the time to fix what’s torn builds strength and resilience.”

To relax, I’m an armchair rugby and cricket fan
My pet place on the West Coast is St Helena Bay
Best restaurant is Seester in St Helena Bay
I love eating crayfish
My signature drink is Coca-Cola
On TV I enjoy watching Suidooster

*United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.