I recently went on a day trip from Bella Bella to King Island, British Columbia, where I came upon a relic from an earlier time. I was exploring the mouth of a salmon creek near an old Heiltsuk village site when, in the afternoon, during low tide, the beach revealed a number of traditional fish traps.
The traps, walls of piled stones arranged in a U-shape around 3 feet high, were an brilliant method of catching fish, particularly salmon. Various models, each catered to its particular environment and prey, have been found in coastal areas around the world. Many date back thousands of years.
Here’s how this particular trap worked: the stone walls were built just offshore where they’d be submerged at high tide, but exposed at low-tide. As the tide began to roll out, the catchment area within the U-shape of the stone walls, facing shore, retained water. Any fish that happened to be swimming in it, unaware that the tide had receded, would be unable to escape.
In earlier epochs, salmon were more plentiful and would return to creeks and rivers in huge numbers to spawn. At low-tide the fish traps would be teaming with them. But the inhabitants only selected certain salmon, and the amount they needed, releasing the rest.