Tag Archives: fish weirs

Alaskan Fish Weir Photos

Screen shot from video of men building a fish weir near Atka, ca. 1946.  Click to see video.  Source: http://vilda.alaska.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/cdmg11/id/37038/rec/36

Screen shot from video of men building a fish weir near Atka, ca. 1946. Click to see video. Source: http://vilda.alaska.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/cdmg11/id/37038/rec/36

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.

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Yelm Jim’s Fish Weir at Puyallup

Yelm Jim's fish weir on the Puyallup River ca. 1885. Click for high resolution.  Source:  http://www.digitalarchives.wa.gov/Record/View/DAA73FC7A57E989D65B6DBEA419FC89E

Yelm Jim’s fish weir on the Puyallup River ca. 1885. Click for high resolution. Source: http://www.digitalarchives.wa.gov/Record/View/DAA73FC7A57E989D65B6DBEA419FC89E

So for one reason or another I’ve been thinking about fish weirs lately.  A picture can be worth a thousand thoughts though, so I was happy to see these two shots of a massive weir photographed ca. 1885 on the Puyallup Indian Reservation (map) near Tacoma, southern Puget Sound, Washington.  I’m sure these are common knowledge images but for some reason I hadn’t come across them before.  If you’re new to weirs I posted something on them before, referencing the monumental reconstruction of one on the Koeye River.  Essentially they are a method for controlling the upstream migration of salmon, allowing for stock assessment and selective harvesting.

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Weir on the River Koeye

Building Koeye Weir. Photo by Grant Callegari via indiegogo.

Building Koeye Weir. Photo by Grant Callegari via indiegogo.

There’s a pretty amazing new construction on the  on the Koeye River (pronounced roughly “kwaay”) on the central coast of B.C. (map).  A team has built a traditional style wooden-weir across the river, and are using it for fishery management – trapping, counting, measuring, and gently releasing salmon at the end (and start) of their life cycle. The construction has been documented at the willatlas.com blog, including some amazing photos, and there are posts on the Hakai Beach Institute blog as well. Even better, there is a short documentary.  This is actually is a teaser for a longer documentary, which is in the fund-raising stage, and I don’t mind using this blog as a platform to bring this really great project to people’s attention.  You can see their fundraising page here.

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Oregon’s weird weirs

Dense fish trap / weir in an Oregon estuary. Source: Byram pdf @ WARP website

(edit: I completely stupidly mixed up who did the poster under discussion. Apologies all around, fixed the text below)

I mentioned the Wetland Archaeology Research Project (WARP) and their revamped website once before in reference to Nancy Greene’s pioneering fishtrap work at Comox.  I’m glad to see they have another interesting conference-style poster available for download, this one by Robert Losey (now at the University of Alberta) Scott Byram on the topic of Oregon fish weirs in unusual settings (PDF).

If a cow patch strikes you as an unusual setting, of course.

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More on Comox Harbour Fishtraps

Fishtrap stakes delineating chevron patterns in the intertidal zone of Comox Harbour. Photo credit: Greene 2010.

I posted once before some time ago on the incredible fishtrap complexes in Comox Harbour on eastern Vancouver Island, highlighting Megan Caldwell’s M.A. thesis (downloadable) on the topic, and mentioning in passing that primacy of investigation should perhaps go to Nancy Greene, who has been mapping and dating these features for about a decade.  I was glad to find the other day that Nancy Greene has a 2010 downloadable poster on the topic (link starts a 4 meg PDF)  from an academic conference: WARP, the Wetland Archaeological Research Project, which itself has a nifty new website.

These Comox Harbour fishtraps are one of the wonders of B.C. Archaeology and it is highly welcome to see some more of Greene’s reconstructions and mapping.

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Montana Creek Fish Trap, Alaska

Montana Creek Fishtrap being excavated, 1989. Source: Sealaska

In 1989 a nearly complete fish trap was found in Montana Creek, near Juneau Alaska in Aak’w Kwáan Tlingit territory. The cylindrical trap, measuring 3 metres long and 1 metre in diameter, was excavated and found to date to about 600 years ago.  The trap was preliminarily reported in Kathryn Bernick’s 1998 book Hidden Dimensions (UBC Press).  Fishtraps were supported by wood and/or stone weir structures which also  act to direct fish into the trap.  The trap would be removed at the end of each season and stored nearby or at camp.  Of course, being wood, they intrinsically don’t preserve very well except in anaerobic and wet conditions.  They are therefore rather rare since they would need to be left in the creek after use in order to preserve.  So this one is very unusual, and especially so since it was essentially complete (other than being flattened).  All credit to the finder, Paul Kissner, for being alert, recognizing the trap, and reporting it promptly.

But now, the fishtrap has become very much a living object.

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dSpace: Caldwell on Comox Harbour Fishtraps

Chevron-shaped fishtraps in Comox Harbour. From Caldwell 2008.

The University of Manitoba is in on the dSpace trend.  The most notable thesis I found there was Megan Caldwell’s excellent analysis of some Comox Harbour fishtraps in relation to the Q’umu?xs Village site (DkSf-19).  Sixteen carbon dates are now available on these traps, thanks mainly to the work of Nancy Greene.  Caldwell takes a theoretical stance of Optimal Foraging Theory, arguing that fishtraps amount to “artificial patches” which can alter choices made under Patch Selection principles.  Essentially, a similar and more holistic argument could be made using principles of the “built environment” in an Ingoldian sense, but OFT is more structured and maybe more suitable for an MA thesis.  Interestingly, Caldwell’s work on auger sampling of the Q’umu?xs Village site shows a preponderance of herring, which is also interpreted as the target prey of the fishtraps.  This runs against the grain of the ethnographic work she conducted, where she was told that salmon were more important — mind you, salmon have difficult taphonomy and site formation processes, which she acknowledges.  In any case, this is a well organized, focused thesis which reflects a lot of high quality original work and while I haven’t read the whole thing I intend to do so!  Caldwell mentions Nancy Greene is still working on her fish trap study and I hope to see the results of that soon as well — these Comox Harbour trap complexes are very likely the finest of their type anywhere on the Northwest Coast and may well offer key insight into cultural construction of the landscape and its resources.  Download her thesis here!

Map of Fishtrap Stakes in Comox Harbour. From Caldwell 2008.

Schematic of two basic fishtrap designs. From Caldwell 2008.