Jesus often referenced various fishing techniques in his preaching, using comparisons that his audience could understand, because many of them were familiar with the fishing tasks at the Sea of Galilee. He performed many miracles on the lake related to these fishing methods, such as the fish with the coin in its mouth and the two miraculous catches.
There are fundamentally four fishing techniques: the hook, the cast net, the trammel net, and the seine net.
The Hook: On one occasion, Jesus told Peter, “Go to the sea, drop in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up” (Matthew 17:24). Saint Peter probably hooked the fish near his home in Capernaum, the ruins of which were uncovered in archeological excavations last century. In the remains of this house, ancient nets and hooks from that biblical time were found. Fishing with a rod and hook is very ancient and was already in use by people on the Mediterranean coast and Israel centuries before the birth of Jesus. From a legal perspective, hook fishing was free and allowed for all tribes of Israel.
The Cast Net: “As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the sea; they were fishermen” (Matthew 4:18). It is a circular net with weights around the edge and a rope in the center used to throw it out to sea (Figure 1). Different types of cast nets were used depending on the fish species. The differences lie mainly in the mesh size and the net’s diameter. At least three types of cast nets existed in the lake, from smallest to largest: for sardines, barbel, and tilapia (Mastermann, 1908). Its use involves throwing it over a school of fish, from a boat or the shore, where the fish are trapped by the net as its edges are dragged down by the weights towards the bottom. This fishing method, like that of the trammel net and the seine net, was subject to legislation requiring fishermen to pay an annual tax per boat, as well as for each catch (Kloppenborg, 2018).
The Trammel Net: “When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep water, and let down your nets for a catch’” (Luke 5:4). The trammel net is a multiple rectangular net with buoys on top and weights at the bottom (Figure 2). It consists of three meshes, the central one with smaller mesh size than the lateral ones, trapping fish when they encounter the central net and tangle themselves. Two boats can be used to fish. The first quietly lays the trammel net parallel to the shore. Once done, the second boat scares the fish with noises and movements, rushing them towards deeper water where they are caught by the trammel net. This process can be repeated many times (up to 12) in one night (Nun, 1989). Expert fishermen, like Jesus’ disciples, can set a trammel net in a few minutes. This type of net has been used in the Mediterranean since time immemorial and was also used at the lake in those times (Troche, 2015).
The Seine Net: “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad” (Matthew 13:47-48). It is a single, U-shaped net large enough to cover the entire depth of the water, with buoys on the top and weights on the bottom and long ropes at the ends that allow several people to pull it together from the shore (Figure 3). It is a long net that allows fishermen to use the following technique: at least one boat leaves the shore, where it has left a group of men with a rope attached to one end of the net, and it releases the net until reaching a certain depth in the middle of the sea, at which point it starts its return to the shore on the opposite side. Upon reaching the shore, the men in the boat disembark and start pulling both sides of the net simultaneously until it is brought ashore, bringing the caught fish to the shore.
In his teachings and miracles, Jesus is very close to the people to whom he announces the kingdom of God; he uses examples they can easily, and although he is not a fisherman, he takes care to know very well the different types of fishing gear and how to use them. He also asks for their collaboration to perform miracles, which were only possible thanks to the fact that besides trusting in Jesus, they used hooks and nets appropriate to the type of fishing and species, applying their own professional criteria. Also today, God wants to work many miracles in our lives and in our society, counting on our faith and on our professional work well done.
By father Alfonso Sánchez de Lamadrid Rey