So, still rustling around the weird world of weirs. The online Alaskan archives have quite a few interesting examples – and, kind of remarkably, a video showing the construction of a weir near Atka, which is on the Aleutian Islands. The trap in the video is pretty similar to a couple of other Aleutian ones in the collection, which I’ll talk about below. It’s really cool to not only see a more-or-less traditional trap being built (look at the rocks being casually dropped down by the wooden fence!) but the photos also show weirs actually in use. There’s probably a lot to learn from these pictures – as any introductory textbook in archaeology will tell you, the more we know about the behavioural context of a given site type, the more we can reliably infer the cultural context when presented only with the archaeological remains.
In the picture above, it’s interesting to see the reinforcement of the stream banks with rocks (to the left) and with a kind of wood cribbing (to the right). The basis of the wood fence is a solid log spanning the creek, and not a series of tripods or (apparently) stakes driven into the substrate. It’s an interesting method I hadn’t seen before – particularly so since wood is at a premium in the essentially treeless Aleutian environment.
The same trap features above. You can see the catch being “divided” in the upper part. More importantly, a complete view of the weir is seen. The stream flow is left to right. It’s interesting there is a substantial gap between a wooden fence and a stone weir, creating a kind of pool, but downstream of the wooden elements. At about the 19 second mark of the video, you can dimly see a riffle in the water downstream with some wooden elements, probably a similar double weir design. In the photo, presumably, fish enter through the gap in the stone wall, and then are controlled in their upstream movements by the wooden wall. Perhaps they mill around in that pool and can be harpooned or dip-netted. There’s no sign of an actual trap of any kind in the picture – I would expect to see it if the fish had been dumped out of it. (More on woven traps below). Obviously without the wooden elements you’d have only a dim apprehension of the weir’s operation – and this kind of weir seems designed to leave no wooden traces. Other interesting pictures showing weirs in use include: dipnetting at a weir; another dipnet/basket trap picture , removing salmon from a basket trap into a canoe; Mrs. Huche Jackson cleaning fish at a weir in Yukon; “Athabascan” fisherman in a kayak at a weir; close up of women on a weir (note the huge ? dipnet); and fish trap and drying salmon. Or do your own search.
River-spanning weirs are not the only kind from this collection at University of Alaska. The above shows stakes driven into intertidal deposits. Interestingly, as the original caption says, the taller posts are wired onto the shorter ones. Whether this is a repair, or a cunning strategy to enable rapid erection of the trap when needed, and low impact on the trap when not assembled, it has implication for all of us out recording stake patterns and dating stake elements. Obviously in the above picture, some sort of planks, matting or loosely woven element is missing, since this part of the trap is a “lead”, designed to gently steer fish into the actual trap element. Long time readers will remember this post, highlighting a poster from Nancy Greene, who has led the detailed recording and analysis of fish trap complexes in Comox Harbour. For example, I previously posted the picture below, from a poster Nancy gave at WARP.
This shows the superimposition of chevron-shaped traps over earlier heart-shaped ones. So it’s pretty cool to see that the wired-together stakes I showed above, lead to the chevron-shaped trap below:
It’s very reminiscent of the Comox examples (and BTW, I am led to believe the Comox fish trap study may be coming out soon….. ). This style of trap was adopted by the commercial industry and lots of huge examples are known, and for a while were apparently controversial. This is an interesting map showing the density of fishtraps extending from the shore in Ikatan Bay, SW Alaska. However, the one above seems pretty much hand-made and an example that is comparable in scale, size and style of the Comox ones.
I don’t know much about the Alaskan situation, but traps and weirs were also banned in BC in the 19th century, as part of the colonial project to wrest control of the salmon fishery from First Nations. In the process, the advantages of weirs and traps – close monitoring of the run at the natal stream allowing selective harvest of actual returns – was lost.
I mentioned basketry traps, and while there are tons more pictures of interest to show, I’ll close with the one below – an amazing feat of the textile arts, you’ll agree.