When did people start fishing?
People probably began fishing in Africa, very early on in human history. Neanderthals were fishing by about 200,000 BC. Modern humans were gathering shellfish at Blombos Cave in South Africa by about 100,000 BC.
Fishing spreads around the world
The first people who left Africa, about 60,000 years ago, may have been following schools of fish along the African coast, then over to the Arabian Peninsula and along the coast to Iran, India, and further east, eventually following the fish to China, Japan, and the Americas. All over the world, where there’s good fishing, there are cities.
Fishing leads to invention
Fishing was super important for early people, and a lot of our early inventions happened around fish.
Baskets: People may have developed basketry for fish traps. They used similar methods to make early boats.
Atlatl: Maybe they invented the atlatl to spear fish.
Pottery: From very early on, people preserved the fish to eat later. The earliest people dried or salted fish. Later people smoked fish over fires.
How did early people catch fish? (History of Fishing)
With fishing nets
Just like today, early fishing people attached stones or bits of clay or lead to the bottom of the net to weight it down (so it wouldn’t float), and they attached bits of wood or bottle gourds to the top (so it would float).
A group of people would wade out into the ocean someplace where it was pretty shallow, and when they were out as far as the fish they would spread out the net, and walk forward.
After a while, the people on the end would walk towards each other and close up the net, and they would all carry it back to the shore. People fished this way in ancient Egypt, for example, when the Nile flood left many fish stranded in shallow pools of water between August and October. Probably the same thing happened in ancient Sudan, further south. There was another fishing season in May and June, at the end of Egypt’s dry season, when shallow pools of water made fishing easy. Mostly they caught catfish.
With fishing boats
If the water was deeper, you could also fish from small wooden boats or boats made from bundles of reeds, by dragging the net behind you for a while and then pulling it up into the boat. In Egypt, people caught perch this way.
By the time of Jesus, though – and even centuries earlier – that’s not what most fishing looked like. Instead, organized industrial fishing companies caught a lot of deep-sea fish like tuna and salmon.
How did the Romans preserve fish?
These big fishing boats brought tons of fish to shore during the big tuna and salmon runs, and then processed them into fermented fish sauce in big industrial garum factories.
Did you find out what you wanted to know about the history of fishing? Let us know in the comments!
Learn by doing: Go fishing! (but be sure to get permits).
More about early boats
Dietrich Sahrhage and Johannes Lundbeck, A History of Fishing (1992)