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A History of Fishing

December 28th, 2012 Seasonal

Although many think of fishing as a relaxing activity that takes place on weekend camping trips, it's also an age-old method of collecting food for humans that's been practiced in one form or another for more than 40,000 years. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), there are some 38-million fishermen and fish farmers working today. In all, fishing directly and indirectly is responsible for about 500-million jobs across the world. Not bad! But where did this huge industry get its start? Here's a brief history of fishing.

1. Ancient roots. If you can name a civilization, chances are fishing was a part of its food collection process. The Native Americans have been known to use lines and bait to catch fish as far back as 7,000 years ago. For the Ancient Egyptians, fish was a staple of their diet, so they used simple reed boats and a number of methods that we still use today to catch them, including nets, baskets and harpoons. Toward the end of the civilization's prominence, they were even using metal hooks and barbs, not unlike how we catch fish today, thousands of years later.

2. Cod trade. One pervasive practice for more than 1,000 years has been the trade of dry cod from Norway to European nations like Spain, Italy and Portugal. This market has managed to outlast the Bubonic Plague and is still one of the basic proponents of Portuguese cuisine. One unique facet of cod trade is that fishing areas are designed almost entirely for export and tend to be far from large populations. Where other fish industries are designed around selling goods at a nearby domestic market, Norwegian cod is almost exclusively sent over long distances to its final destination.

3. Recreational fishing. The current theory is that recreational fishing first became popular between the 16th and 17th centuries with the publication of Izaak Walton's "The Compleat Angler, or Contemplative Man's Recreation," which emphasized fishing for the sake of fishing. It's a work that's filled with poems and stories, and continues to be published today. In fact, more than 300 editions of the book have been produced! This may be the first point at which the quiet, contemplative and reflective nature of fishing was brought to the foreground, rather than simply regarding it as a means of earning one's dinner for the evening.

4. Big-game fishing. Big-game fishing involves searching for species of fish that provide a challenge for whoever is trying to catch them, including commonly-eaten ones like tuna and swordfish. This practice didn't really take off until the invention of motorized boats in the late-1800s. However, it has continued to grow in popularity over the years, and today you can find a number of big-game fisheries throughout the United States, including the East Coast and select areas of California.

5. Fishing in art and literature. Naturally, fishing can be found in a number of cultural institutions. Countless books, such as The Old Man and the Sea, have been written on the subject. You could make the argument that Moby Dick is the ultimate big-game fishing novel, as well. There are plenty of paintings of fishing, and you frequently see it depicted on television, either as a sport or a situation that characters on a show are placed in. It's hard to deny that fishing plays an important role in our lives around the world, and for good reason! While it may have started off as a means of hunting for food, it has since evolved to become a respected and pervasive means of recreation.