Our relationship
with fish and fish traps is deeply intertwined in our history. In the C̓uṃ́qlaqs story, told by Udzistalis to George Hunt in 1920, we learn how C̓uṃ́qlaqs’ son Qáláguy̓uis created the first sockeye and the first fish trap in Húy̓at.
In recent memory, we only used stone fish traps. However, archaeological excavations of the largest stone alignment in Húy̓at suggest that in at least some cases, these rock walls were actually the foundations for wooden fish fences.
This trap is an impressive structure, composed of an almost 200 m stone wall. Today, the wall appears to be only 1 - 2 meters wide. However, excavations in 2016 by archaeologist Darcy Mathews revealed that much of the trap is now covered with silt, and at its base, it is actually 7 - 8 meters wide and about 50 - 60 cm high. Darcy calculates that an incredible one million kg of stone was used, all of which were carefully placed to form a tight-fitting structure.
Preserved wooden stakes found in the excavations indicate that this substantial stone wall served as a foundation for a wooden fish fence along the top of the wall. This fence may have been augmented with a woven lattice, presumably to better control the size of fish caught. The wooden fence would have increased the height of the trap and thus increased the number of days that fish could be caught.
Based on two wood samples submitted to the radiocarbon lab, this massive stone and wood fish trap was in use for at least 100 years from 270 to 370 years ago (i.e., AD 1680 - 1580). Given its enormous size, its prominent position in the Húy̓at intertidal, and that the large settlements in the bay date to many millennia ago, we expect that additional excavations would demonstrate that the trap was in use and continually refurbished for many generations.
Dating of the Fish Trap
When archaeologist Gíƛa Elroy White interviewed Heiltsuk community members in 2004 about the Húy̓at fish traps, none recalled their families using the large stone trap that is so prominent in the bay today.
Instead, the families built smaller, semi-circular stone walls closer to the shore and their camps. They used these both to trap fish and as holding ponds for their daily catch of pink, chum, sockeye, and coho salmon. Emma Reid recalled that people took stones from these larger, older traps to build the smaller ones they used in the 20th century.
Through the generations, we developed responsible and respectful ways to manage our salmon using fish traps and other methods. Our success is reflected in the density of salmon bones in our archaeological sites and in the abundance of salmon in our rivers. However, in the 1930’s, government fishery officers dismantled our Húy̓at fish traps for “the benefit of the
salmon."
Many of the stone alignments visible in the intertidal of central Húy̓at today are likely the remains of these partially dismantled small traps.
Dating of the Fish Trap
River Fishtrap