As herring swim near the shore at night, they encounter the weir's net-covered fence. Following the fence, the herring arrive in the weir. Swimming around inside the weir, the inward-turned mouth of the weir redirects the herring to the center, thus preventing escape. Eventually, enough herring accumulate in the weir, and the fisherman closes the weir's door (another net at the weir's mouth) and seines out the herring.
A "Deer Island style weir" has no fence. The weir is built close to shore, where the shoreline and shoals perform that function.
As the weir accumulates herring, the fisherman may periodically check to see how many fish have been caught, in order to determine if it is time to harvest the catch. Traditionally, the fisherman would employ a "feeler," who drops a weighted wire into the weir and -- by observing how the fish bump into the wire--determines the volume of fish -- frequently in archaic "hogsheads" -- contained in the weir. With modern technology as it is, however, electronic devices are now used more prevalently than a feeler.
Typically, three boats are involved: (1) a seine boat, which may be manned by several men--the fisherman and his helpers--and which has a long roller onto which the seine is unrolled and rolled; (2) the "pumper," which moves the herring from the seine into the third boat, (3) the carrier--a boat into which the herring are pumped.
A purse seine is attached around the inside edge of the weir, with the bottom of the seine dropping to the bottom. The bottom edge of the seine has rings attached, with a long rope through the rings. The rope is drawn into a seine boat, pulling the bottom edge of the seine together into the center of the weir, enclosing the herring in the seine. Then, the seine is gradually pulled into the seine boat, forcing the herring into an ever- decreasing area, where the pumper pumps the herring from the seine and into the herring buyer's carrier boat. [Note: In days gone by, the pumper's task was done by hand by men in boats using long-handled nets.]
The pumper's pump and sluice mechanism, along with all the flailing that the herring make in the seine, causes the herring scales to come off and to be diverted into bags or baskets on the pumper's deck. These scales are then sold to a "pearl essence" company that processes the opalescent material on the scales into coloring for women's makeup, paint products, etc.
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