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The art of net building & maintenance

trap net example

The DNR's Fisheries Division uses a variety of net types to sample Michigan's aquatic communities. Just the crew that covers the northern portion of the Lake Huron basin uses more than 15 different kinds of nets throughout the year, each with a specific purpose.

In this area alone - which covers all or a portion of the following counties: Alcona, Alpena, Charlevoix, Cheboygan, Chippewa, Crawford, Emmet, Iosco, Mackinac, Montmorency, Oscoda, Ogemaw, Otsego, Presque Isle and Roscommon - more than 150 nets are maintained. These nets consist of everything from a long-handled dip net used during stream shocking to a large trap net to set in an inland lake - their configurations and purposes are varied and broad.

Many of the nets used by Fisheries Division are produced in-house at a workshop located at the DNR Customer Service Center located in Roscommon. This shop was configured primarily for the purpose of building the wide variety of netting gear that is essential to carrying out fisheries work.

Nearly all the net building work occurs during the winter months, both construction and net repair and assembly.

Net design and construction is an ancient art and while ropes and netting are now made out of modern materials such as nylon and polypropylene, the basic techniques have changed very little. In fact all of Fisheries Division's nets are still assembled by hand, sometimes with the help of an industrial sewing machine.

Take an inland trap net for example, 700 feet of rope is cut and spliced together to form a frame on to which floats, weights and then nylon mesh is attached. Nylon twine is used to tie it all together using a net making knot. That means that over the course of two weeks more than 4,000 knots are sewn by hand to assemble one trap net!

For the last several years the Northern Lake Huron Management Unit has been making minor improvements to its nets that make them lighter and easier to use without reducing their ability to capture fish. These improvements, when coupled with high quality fabrication skills and proper maintenance, produce nets that can last 30 years or more.