Haaf netters on the Solway Firth

The haaf net fishermen of the Solway Firth know the shape of the estuary bed. They know where to put their feet, where to stand. Each part of the river bed has a name and an understanding. These points are marked by piles of stones, a bit like the cairns found on top of mountains and they mark the underwater topography. At low tide these stone piles appear.

The men, and it’s nearly always men, decide who will stand where in the river before heading out. There’s quite a bit of competition as to who stands where as the tide rushes in and this is decided using dominoes flipped in the hand of a chosen man. Often the fishermen will arrive just in time for the tide, racing from their jobs or between doing different chores they’ll sneak away to fish. The clock is important to the fishermen, they know the day by the tides, in this way they behave more like sailors than anglers.

One of the older men who’d been haaf netting all his life also collected pocket watches as a hobby. He talked to me about the refined internal mechanisms of these antique watches whilst chest deep in the cool weight of the firth’s waters. About a mile away on shore stood the radio towers that regulate the atomic clock. Tall, spindly and fragile like a crown dropped in a field. It was as though at once there were many clocks ticking. The regulating rhythm of the tides going in and out, the salmon making their migration around our bodies, the atomic clock, the pocket watches of the collector and clock the fish run to.