Beach seine net fishing has been carried out for centuries from Cornish bays and beaches. In the same way as a traditional pilchard seine net was set (see history of Cornish fishing
) a beach seine is a long wall of mesh with weighted footrope and a buoyed headrope. At each end of the net ropes are attached so that fishermen can draw it back in ashore.
Beach seines are large nets, and most of the licenced nets in use around the county are co-owned by a syndicate of local fishermen. The species targeted are bass and mullet. Success of this method relys on fishermen keeping a constant eye on their local bays and beaches for shoals of fish. Once a shoal is seen within a few hundred metres of shore the net is prepared and people are called down to the shore. At each end of the net there is a long length of rope. Many hands are required to manually haul the net into shore. One of the ropes is held by a shore team and the net (which has been carefully folded into a net box) is and carried by rowing punt off the beach, with the crewman paying out the rope as it goes. Once out far enough the net is shot in a large semi-circle around or through the shoal. The boat then returns to the beach bringing with it the other rope. By hauling in the ropes the net is slowly brought into the shore.
Catches can vary from just a few kilos of fish to several tonnes. It is rare for a seine net team to use their net more than a few times each year, and this method of fishing is seen as a supplement for men who spend the majority of their time fishing by more reliable methods.
In terms of impacts on the wider environment, beach seines are only deployed over sandy seabeds so there is no physical impact on rare species. There are generally no problems with by catch of non-target species although shad and scad are sometimes mixed in with mullet. Cetacean and seal by catch is not a problem with this fishery.
Problems can come if a haul is too successful and the weight of fish caught is too large for the net to be hauled in, in this case the net can be released, allowing all or part of the catch to be slipped – hopefully in a healthy condition, but some mortalities are possible. If a very large quantity is caught the main problem is the practicality of getting it all off the beach and taken to market in good condition. It is difficult to ice several tonnes of fish, so refrigerated vehicles are ideal if available. The other problem from the perspective of the fishermen is with marketing. A species like grey mullet seldom fetches a high price and if the market is flooded prices often fall drastically, thus it can make more sense to limit size of catches to ensure that optimum prices are fetched.