THEIR centuries-old technique, which involves coaxing fish into handheld willow nets while standing chest-deep in one of the world’s most dangerous estuaries, sees them net just seven salmon a year.
But the historic art of lave fishing could be threatened by Environment Agency by-laws designed to protect Britain’s dwindling stocks.
The Black Rock Lave Net Salmon Fishing Association, who number just seven, use 17th century techniques, passed down the generations, to fish in the shadow of the Severn Bridge.
Their manipulation of the hand-held nets in chest-deep water has attracted fascinated tourists from all over the world who watch from the River Severn-side Black Rock picnic site. Because of the tidal range of the estuary, the group can fish for only 90 minutes, at most, every other week.
But the fishermen are concerned by-laws being considered by the Environment Agency to conserve salmon could sound the death-knell for their ages-old craft.
The Black Rock fishermen expect a further cut in fishing hours and a stipulation that all salmon catches are returned to the water.
The group plans to meet Rural Affairs Minister Elin Morgan at the National Assembly today to plead their case for special exemption.
Black Rock member Martin Morgan, 47, a Llanwern steelworker from Undy, Monmouthshire, is the latest of four generations of lave net fisherman who have fished the Severn.
His fishing skills were taught to him by his grandfather and uncles when he was just a boy
He said, “Basically, it’s a hand-held net made of willow. We cut the willow sticks ourselves and make the frames ourselves.
“Because the Severn has the world’s second highest tidal range we can only fish on the spring tides for an hour or an hour-and-a-half, and then only if the conditions are right.
“We stand in the water, we may be up to our chest, holding our net out in front of us.
“There are traditional places where we stand and because the tide turns quickly you have got to know exactly when to leave – if you don’t know what you are doing you will drown.”
He said they were the last of their kind in Wales. The only other place you would see a lave net is in the St Fagans folk museum.
Mr Morgan says if there are more restrictions it could mean the end for lave netting.
He said, “We fish for the love of the river, to keep our heritage alive but if we were forced to return every catch to the water it simply would not be the same.”
Peter Gough, the Environment Agency Wales’ senior technical officer for fisheries accepted the lave netters took small numbers of salmon and were the last of their kind in Wales.
But he said salmon stocks had been in sharp decline over the past 10-15 years.