Netagerð was founded in 1935 by Petur Njarðvík as one of the chief suppliers of fishing nets in the Westfjords and in regions beyond. On the wall in the office of Magni Guðmundsson, the general manager of the operation, is an old pamphlet dating to 1944 on "The Herring of the North Coast of Iceland‘‘ (Norðurlands Sildin) which contains a full page reference to Netagerð (then Netagerðin Grænigarður) which acknoweldges the company as "One of the best known netmakers in Iceland.‘‘
The primary production of the nets takes place on the second floor of an old concrete building in an open L-shaped room about the length of a basketball court plus twenty feet. The leg of the L, where completed nets are stored, extends to the front of the building for about half the length of the main room, and is separted from the main production area by a curtain of translucent plastic. The main work area is brightly lit by windows on the two long sides and one short. Pipes are affixed to the main housing beams at head height and along thes have been welded hooks from which nets in progress are hung, keeping them stretched out and easier to work on. All about the beams, and indeed on benches along the walls, are spools of polyethene line of different colors and diameters from which the nets are woven. The line is made elsewhere, with a significant supplier being Hampiðjan in Reykjavík.
At the time of our visit, Netagerð was working primarily on two types of net: those used for large fish like cod, halibut, or haddock, and those used for shrimp fishing. The key difference between the two is the dimension of the weave as well as the diameter of line used to make the nets. The holes in each are made to a standard size, about 36 mm wide for the shrimp nets and 155 mm for the larger nets. Magni explains that one of the important concerns in making the nets is making the holes stable in size, and the development the netmaking material over the years has in part been in the effort of addressing this issue. The earliest nets were made of cotton line which was coated in tar to prevent the knots from slippling when under stress. An important issue with cotton, though, is that it stretches quite a bit. After cotton net makers began to use nylon line, though the stretch with that can be as much as 30%. Polyethelene is considerably better with a stretch of only about 15%. And now they are experimenting with a rope called Dynama , which has a woven core and a stretch of only about 4%. The line is somewhat sticky to the touch, and the nets are woven with a hitch that limits the amount of slippage.
Nets are woven by hand with the assistance of a mending needle, a plastic needle upon which lengths of line are wound, which the net makers use with deft precision. Nets are made in sections, rather than complete units which consist of as many as 25 of 30 sections of different shapes and dimensions. Sections are sold to the fishermen who can use them to replace parts or create complete units. Magni shows me a book full of diagrams with the exact dimension for each section mapped out. It takes a single man about 50 hours to weave a section of cod net approximately 15 by 18 feet in size.
The life of a net depends on several factors. A shrimp net will typically have a longer life than a cod net because the bottom of the sea where the shrimp are caught tends to be relatively smooth, of a clay like material, and so snags are less of a problem. The cod nets which are trawled tend to be used in rougher terrain. For these nets, Netagerð also produces rock hoppers. These are essentially long weighted cables with solid rubber wheels made from recycled truck and machine tires imported from the Ukraine, which are attached to the bottom end of the net and which roll over rocks and debris on the sea floor as the net is trawled behind the boat.
Over the years Netagerð has experienced several changes, as a result of changes in the fishing industry. In 1954, when the industry began to boom, the company came under the management of Guðmundur Sveinsson and grew enough to warrant an addition to the exisiting building. By 1990, the company employed between 30 and 35 men. In recent years, with the decline in the fishing industry and the consequent need for nets, it has shrunk dramatically. Now it regularly employs only three men. And it is no longer an independent corporation, but is more of a subsidiary of a larger organization that has several factories around Iceland.
Perhaps what seems most compelling about Netagerð is that it helps one to understand that the fishing industry does not simply consist of boats and fisherman and those who work in processing plants. Instead the industry consists of a whole network of operations that support that boats, which includes net makers, machine shops, boat building and repair, clothing and supplies. So a change in one part of the industry, particularly in the center of the industry such as has occured in past years as a result of the quota system of fisheries management, has a ripple effect throughout the communities in ways that are perhaps less visible.