Traditional fishing methods are not only the use of a simple hook and line, or tickling fish in a stream. There are surprisingly effective technologies for catching fish, technologies that were used traditionally by First Nations people. Here on the coast of British Columbia in Canada and Washington State in the USA is the area called the Salish Sea, after the Coast Salish-speaking people who have been living here since the end of the last Ice Age. Saltwater fishing techniques were developed to a science by these coastal people.
But the use of Salish reef-nets fell out of practise when these nets were banned by the Canadian government over a hundred years ago. It was only through the efforts of several people living on the Saanich peninsula (in and near the city of Victoria, BC) that the first reef-net in a hundred years has been built and put to use.
Leading their project is Nick Claxton (XEMŦOLTW̱), a member of the Tsawout community and a PhD candidate at the University of Victoria in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction. He worked with a local school and members of the W̱SÁNEĆ nation to build a model of a traditional reef-net. The project was so successful that teachers throughout the school—math teachers, science teachers, socials teachers—began to teach their subjects through the model net.
Then, with the help of relatives from the Lummi Nation just across the border in Washington state, Nick and his associates built a reef-net in the traditional style. They put it to use on August 9, 2014, at a hereditary fishing location off Pender Island, as shown in this video they posted on YouTube.
Their short video will give you a sense of the power of that day and what it means to “carry on our fisheries as formerly,” as agreed to in the Douglas Treaty signed by the Saanich people in 1852.
If you're wondering what's so different about one net compared to another, well, there can be a lot of differences! This isn't a little net held and retrieved by one person. A reef-net is suspended between two open canoes. The upper part of the net is attached to floats, and the lower part is held down by weights.
If the video of this net being used doesn't load on your screen, you can click here to see a six-minute video, showing the project and the reef net being deployed.