Fishing, like hunting and gathering, is a prehistoric human activity. In the Palaeolithic Period, fish were caught and eaten, as witnessed by the discovery of remains of meals prepared using fish.
In Switzerland, wherever Neolithic pile-dwelling settlements are found, so almost invariably are artefacts showing how important fishing had already become during the period, between 6,000 and 3,000 years ago. These items include hooks fashioned from deer bones, wild boar teeth and bronze, as well as harpoons in bone, and arrows and spears. The peaty terrain has ensured the survival of significant remains of fishing nets to the present day, featuring knots very similar to some of those still used. The floats that sustained them were made from pieces of tree bark, while they were stretched vertically using terracotta weights. A loan by the National Museum of Zurich enables us to display both original examples and copies of these implements.
The first great civilisations (such as in Egypt, China, Mesopotamia and India) developed along major rivers and fishing naturally played a crucial role in their diet, as it did for the Greek world, stretching out as it did all along the coast.
The Romans greatly appreciated fish, and built basins in which they could keep them alive after they were caught or even conduct fish farming proper. The mosaics that adorn the floors and walls of their buildings frequently feature decorative patterns with a ichthyological theme. The Romans themselves appear to have been the first to draw up laws specifically regarding fishing.
In the Middle Ages, fishing constituted an imperial right, termed regalía, which could be given in fief or donated. As often as not, communes claimed this right for themselves as, when granted to private citizens, it often raised substantial revenues.
Over the course of the nineteenth century, nation-states issued specific laws. Following a number of contested regulations, in 1845 the Ticino region approved the first fully-fledged law on fishing.