Tag Archives: salmon

Old Enoch’s New Fishtrap

Old Enoch; was the builder of all fish traps; in the background is one he has just completed, made from young Jack pine and lashed together with wild rose roots.

Old Enoch ca. 1910; was the builder of all fish traps; in the background is one he has just completed, made from young Jack pine and lashed together with wild rose roots.  Source: BC Archives: https://goo.gl/uGtVo4

Not every blog post has to be an essay, sometimes we can just admire the slightly smug look on a smiling guy who is good at making fishtraps, and knows it. And obviously I’m kidding about the essay part.

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Tree Cache

Salmon cache in tree, Yale BC, date unknown but probably 1865ish, Maynard collection but probably by Dally. Source: BC Archives https://goo.gl/kaixsc

Salmon cache boxes in tree, Yale BC, date unknown but probably 1865ish, Maynard collection but probably by Dally. Source: BC Archives https://goo.gl/kaixsc

Last post we (the Royal We, always, please) looked at some salmon mass harvesting technology from north central BC.  But what do you do with all those fish?  They need to be processed into a stable form for storage, and then cached somewhere, somehow. While there are lots of ways to skin a coho, I’m going to focus on some extraordinary photos from the Yale area on the lower Fraser River, late 1860s.The above shows four large box-like structures, identified as a salmon cache, high in a tree presumably to help protect them from scavengers.  I say “presumably” because there may be another reason to do so.  Continue reading

Salmon fishing 11,500 years ago in central Alaska

Excavations at the Upper Sun River Site, Tanana Valley, Alaska. Photo: Ben Potter

Excavations at the Upward Sun River Site, Tanana Valley, Alaska. Photo: Ben Potter via adn.com

There’s been quite a bit of buzz surrounding a new paper by Carrin Halffman et al. documenting the use of  salmon at the Upward Sun River Site (more) which is on the Tanana River: a tributary of the Yukon River, but about 1,400 kilometres upstream from the ocean (and much further still from the paleo-rivermouth during Beringian times).  The authors report this as both the earliest evidence of salmon exploitation in the Americas, and the first evidence of Pleistocene salmon use.  The first I am on board with, the second I may quibble a little with lower down. (And this is all assuming we don’t consider eastern Beringia to be effectively part of Asia at this time!). But it’s a remarkable find and a very carefully researched and presented paper. [edit: be sure to read comments from Ben Potter below which tweaks some information in this post.]

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A Lummi Reef Net Model

Lummi Reef Netting Model. Source: WhatcomWatch.org

Lummi Reef Netting Model. Source: http://whatcomwatch.org/wpww/?p=348

A while back I found the cool picture above in an online exhibit of the Whatcom Museum showing photographs of Point Roberts and Lummi Island, on Puget Sound just south of the Canadian border.  Reef netting is a peculiarly Straits Salish technology which involved the setting of complex nets, suspended between two canoes, at strategic locations where the natural flow of salmon was constrained. A sort of on-ramp led the fish up to the net by creating a gentle optical illusion of a rising bottom.  When the salmon were milling around in the horizontal net, still free, the canoes would be suddenly swung together, closing the net and trapping the salmon.

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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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