A GROUP of fishermen in Monmouthshire dedicated to preserving a centuries-old way of life will celebrate their fishery's centenary this year.

The members of Black Rock Lave Net Heritage Fishery, based in Portskewett, are the only fishermen on the Severn Estuary to still use the traditional nets to catch salmon in the river - a method which has not changed in centuries.

“This is my cultural heritage - it means everything to me,” fishery secretary Martin Morgan said.

“I’ll pass on what has been passed down to me. Had my ancestors not fought for the fishery, it would have disappeared.”

Mr Morgan and his brother Richard are the great-grandsons of one of the fishery’s founders, William Corbin.

He said the group’s focus was on preserving the traditional way of life, rather than turning a profit. The fishery is limited, legally, to catching only a handful of salmon at a time.

“We’ve fought to survive, and that meant accepting we were not a commercial fishery” he said.

More News

NOSTALGIA: The court where Chartists were tried

Tributes to Monmouth boy Samuel Barker who died in bus collision

Monmouthshire man completes 31 half marathons in as many days for homelessness charity

Instead, the group holds open days for members of the public to learn more about their almost unique fishing methods, and in the summer the fishermen introduced Prince Charles to their work when he visited their stall at the Royal Welsh Show.

To mark the centenary year, the Black Rock fishery will hold several events when the salmon season kicks off in earnest at the start of the summer.

The fishermen will also be immortalised in a sculpture this spring, commissioned as part of The Living Levels project, which celebrates the heritage and natural beauty in and around the Gwent Levels.

Chainsaw sculptor Chris Wood will carve a wooden statue of a fisherman at work. It will be unveiled at the Black Rock picnic site in Portskewett later this year.

But alongside the celebrations, Mr Morgan said the fishermen must continue their hard work to preserve the fishery for future generations.

“These things are fragile and easily lost,” he said. “Hopefully it can be passed on and continued for another 100 years. It’s something to be treasured and nurtured.”

Over the years, the Black Rock Lave Net fishermen have made a habit of unearthing historical artefacts while working in the river, discovering items as varied as anchors, clay pipes and medieval fishing traps in the thick mud of the estuary.

The fishing traps are among the oldest items to have been pulled from the mud.

“From time to time we find these traps,” said Mr Morgan.

“They vary in size and shape and are buried in the clay and mud. Storms expose them.

“We have reported them to Cadw in the past and they have been carbon dated to between the 11th and 15th centuries.”

Clam fossil found by Black Rock lave net fishermen

However, dwarfing the fishing traps in terms of age are a number of fossils which have been spotted among the riverbed by the keen-eyed fishermen.

“The latest is one of a clam,” explained Mr Morgan.

“We have also found one of plants which used to grow out there when the estuary was a swamp or jungle. They are millions of years old.”

Among the larger items discovered in the river is an anchor which was found a way out in the mid-channel of the Severn.

“It’s only exposed on the biggest spring tides,” said Mr Morgan.

“Two men would struggle to lift it, so we plan to recover it one day using our boat and display it in our net house at Black Rock.”

Clay pipe found by Black Rock lave net fishermen

Other maritime finds include a number of clay pipes which are sometimes extremely ornate and are often inscribed with various insignia and mottos. Mr Morgan believes that some of them could display political affiliations.

The oldest of the pipes is thought to date from around 300 years ago.

Staying with a nautical theme, brass dividers, a mast, and rope sheaves from a sailing ship have all been unearthed but by far the largest find of all is the remains of a ship which was sunk towards the end of the Second World War.

Located on ‘Gruggy reef’ in mid-channel is the wreck of the steel ship named ‘John’.

Mr Morgan said: “We often visit when we are fishing.”

Signs of wartime are not as rare as one might imagine on the river, with the fisherman turning up shell casings and bomb cases every so often.

A ‘torpedo’ found by Black Rock lave net fishermen turned out to to be a propane bottle

“Recently we mistook an old propane bottle for a torpedo,” said Mr Morgan.

One of the more unusual finds was that of a single hobnailed boot.

While that in itself might not be the strangest item which could have ended up in the mud, especially given the footwear of Wales’ industrial past, it was made more unusual given the fact that it was the boot of a small child.

“We forget children had a hard life 100 years ago, with the mines etc,” said Mr Morgan.

For more information about Black Rock Lave Net Fishery, or lave net fishing in general, visit lavenets4wales.wixsite.com/blackrocklavenet.