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Author Topic: Fish Traps  (Read 19677 times)

Malcolm McKay

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Fish Traps
« on: April 08, 2012, 07:31:35 AM »

Forgive me if this question has been asked before.

On one survey I did I investigated some Australian aboriginal fish traps on a beach. These were shallow but permanent semi-circular structures made of rocks and constructed so that at high tide the sea covered them allowing fish to swim into them, but as the tide receded the fish that stayed were stranded in these man made pools. They were then easy to catch by hand, one didn't need any fishing gear or a spear. I wonder if some one with a knowledge of the Pacific like Noonan could have been aware of how to make them. 

Are there any trace of structures like these in the waters of the lagoon near the 7 site? Loose blocks of coral could be used, the trap doesn't have to be water tight, just tight enough to prevent a fish from getting out once the tide recedes. Certainly they are an energy saving means of catching fish. The one problem with the ones I was investigating was that they also attracted stingrays, so I was careful not to go paddling in them.
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Randy Conrad

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Re: Fish Traps
« Reply #1 on: April 08, 2012, 08:11:12 AM »

In the past week, I too have wandered how the castaways (Amelia and Fred) went about catching their fish and birds and turtles. Turtles, in a sense are easy to catch. For one they are very slow. Most of the time, turtles will also lay eggs producing other smaller turtles...and you know the rest of the story. So turtles most likely were easy to catch. As for the birds...not to sure how you would go about this....unless, they set up a birdhouse cage near the campsite. However, the fish traps sounds possible...but as a Kansas boy if you're gonna catch large quanitites of fish you set a trout line. Most, lake fisherman in western kansas do this alot, cause most of them don't wanna sit around and wait. In this case, with the recent underwater photographs of what appears to be rope like material, it would not surprise me that Amelia and Fred had used this as either a tow line to hold the Electra in place or used it for purposes of a trout line. Just think about it...there's a big difference between pond fish and saltwater fish. If you used a trout line in either situtation...the saltwater fish would last longer. So, if I was gonna go fishing and I had a rope, and have means of tying man-made hooks on them.. I would do so. After reading on the forum that the expedition crew found over 2000 bones, I want to believe that Amelia and Fred had a certain method for catching them. Getting back to the Electra and the tow line I just thought that the recent photograph that was shown at the state department shows a landing prop in the water...it would not surprise me that the landing prop could have been used to hold this trout line on. Just a thought!!! Also, do have a question for those of you who were on the expedition...the bones that you found were they more predominant towards the beach or the lagoon? Ric, when you walked through the lagoon...did it appear that there was enough fish to catch? Anyway, like Malcom I am really interested in knowing how Amelia and Fred went about catching their meal!!!
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Malcolm McKay

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Re: Fish Traps
« Reply #2 on: April 08, 2012, 07:13:11 PM »

I raised the matter of a simple device like a fish trap because while there is a lot of discussion of what the pair might have eaten there is little about how they might have caught their food. For instance, adult birds would be pretty much impossible to catch without a shotgun but fledglings or chicks still in the nest would be easy. However as I pointed out elsewhere their high oil and fat content would exacerbate any diarrhea problems and also they may well be quite unpalatable as well. Think oily, greasy and strongly fishy in taste.

Fish on the other hand, leaving aside the possibility of that poison they could have carried would be palatable, nutritious and importantly not likely to create digestive problems. If you don't have a fishing line and hooks then you must find other ways of catching them. A fish spear is one way but that requires going into the water and is a very hit or miss affair - lots of energy expended for little return for a novice. Fish traps however require little effort to build being just rocks or lumps of coral piled up into a rough low wall and it is the tide that does the work. Fish trapped inside at low tide would be then comparatively easy to harvest, and would be a good source of nutrients. Plus they can be left there without going off as they would be in a natural living larder - like those fish tanks in fish restaurants.

If the 7 site was occupied then it makes sense that a fish trap on the lagoon shore near it would be in the most convenient spot.
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Andrew M McKenna

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Re: Fish Traps
« Reply #3 on: April 15, 2012, 04:57:01 AM »

There is such a fish trap, or at least the remains of one - mostly rocks laid out in a pattern suggesting a catchment such as you describe, at the southern end of the beach we called Club Fred, on the lagoon side directly across from the landing channel.  Tom King spend some time looking at it, and I think decided that it was going to be hard to determine if it was a remnant from some ancient visitors, or from the colonial islanders.  In any case it is a long way from the 7 site. 

It is possible to catch fish on the reef flat at low tide.  I myself came across a hole with some fish stranded in it and for fun tried to catch them.  Since they didn't have anywhere to go, I actually did manage to grab onto one by hand, and pull it out of the hole.  I was not able to retain it for long, and without my gloves on, it would have been more difficult for sure.  However, with a small spear or knife, I'm confident I would have been able to kill one or more.

Andrew
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Malcolm McKay

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Re: Fish Traps
« Reply #4 on: April 15, 2012, 07:29:13 AM »

There is such a fish trap, or at least the remains of one - .... However, with a small spear or knife, I'm confident I would have been able to kill one or more.

Andrew

Thanks Andrew for taking the time to reply and recount your experience on the island.
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Malcolm McKay

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Re: Fish Traps
« Reply #5 on: April 16, 2012, 05:30:09 AM »

I note that on page 3 of the first batch of the Bushnell Papers http://tighar.org/aw/mediawiki/images/5/52/Bushnell_Part_1.pdf that reference is made to the natives eating the booby (genus sula) but only after these birds have been semi-domesticated and kept off a fish diet which removes the taste from  their meat and eggs. If the flesh of the bird in the bird's wild form was unpalatable to the Polynesians on Gardner then one might presume that any booby bones found in the ash lenses at the fireplaces might be from natives eating domesticated birds rather than Earhart and Noonan who probably would have found the taste of the wild birds, if they caught any, equally unpalatable.
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Gary LaPook

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Re: Fish Traps
« Reply #6 on: April 16, 2012, 10:43:49 AM »


Therefore perhaps what we can learn of how the food (birds) was handled, i.e. prepared, cooked, consumed, remains disposed of - and how that does, or does not, relate to a native islander's practices - might tell us much more about a potential castaway - or not - than would being concerned about what a castaway's reaction to the bird's fishy flavor might have been.  IMHO, of course.

Just thoughts.  Very interesting document.

LTM -
By wild coincidence, last night on the TV show "Survivorman" he was doing a South Pacific show on a deserted island and he killed a wild booby and roasted it on a stick over an open fire and said it tasted good.

gl
« Last Edit: April 16, 2012, 10:46:03 AM by Gary LaPook »
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Malcolm McKay

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Re: Fish Traps
« Reply #7 on: April 16, 2012, 06:54:09 PM »

Malcolm,

out of interest how did you date those fish traps?  Were they on an existing site or did they have datable evidence with them?

Hello Chris

The rough stone fish traps as built by most indigenous peoples are impossible to date, unless there is some dateable artifact trapped or placed in them. Also because of their construction they tend to be used for as long as they don't silt up or the sea level changes. So they are very effective long term pieces of indigenous infrastructure (to use some modern parlance  :) ) The ones I was examining were in a part of the world where the current sea levels had been more or less at the same level for about 5000 years - however that doesn't mean they were that old.

As far as I am aware there is no evidence of prehistoric settlement or activity on Nikumaroro. By prehistoric I mean prior to the first visits in the 19th century, but my understanding of its archaeology and the extent of settlement after that is that any traces would be hard to find. In any case the part of the Pacific that the island is in is of relatively recent settlement by Polynesians anyway. Perhaps 1500 to 2000 years ago. Nikumaroro is generally speaking not an attractive island for settlement with its well know and attested water problems. So while in the past there may have been Polynesian visitors (e.g. the skeletal material debate) I suspect that it would have been very minor and any would have been obscured by the activity since the 19th century.

Hope that explains it

Malcolm 
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Malcolm McKay

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Re: Fish Traps
« Reply #8 on: April 16, 2012, 07:08:54 PM »


Interesting article, Malcolm.

I noted that the report states that the natives went to this trouble with the boobies (before eating) to "avoid the fishy flavor".  By that I take that it may have been more out of preference than a necessity for survival. .......

Just thoughts.  Very interesting document.

LTM -

Hello Jeff

One other problem I have with the matter of Earhart and Noonan catching birds is how did they do it? Admittedly the Booby is not know as the Booby for nothing so it may have been comparatively easy if they weren't use to human beings. There is sufficient evidence to show that Europeans were eating them because that is how they got the name - sailors would catch them because they would land on ships. However I suspect that given the general level of awfulness of the diet of pre-20th century sailors at sea anything that tasted different to half-rotten salt beef or weavils would be a delicacy  :) Polynesians on the other hand had a far better and more varied diet.

I'm thinking more in terms of the mid 20th century palate of people like Earhart and Noonan, but importantly given the documented evidence of the native practice of semi-domestication of the Booby it means that any bones found in those ash lenses may have a local origin rather than be an indicator of use by the aviators.
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Irvine John Donald

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Re: Fish Traps
« Reply #9 on: April 16, 2012, 10:13:02 PM »

I, on the other hand, believe that someone who is thirsty and hungry is going to eat what they can catch and not be so fussy as to flavor.  Sorry Macolm but there just isn't any evidence to back up your hypothesis. Perhaps it's a waste of time. No point in searching for the answer.  ;)
Respectfully Submitted;

Irv
 
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Malcolm McKay

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Re: Fish Traps
« Reply #10 on: April 16, 2012, 11:04:56 PM »

I, on the other hand, believe that someone who is thirsty and hungry is going to eat what they can catch and not be so fussy as to flavor.  Sorry Macolm but there just isn't any evidence to back up your hypothesis. Perhaps it's a waste of time. No point in searching for the answer.  ;)

On the other hand if one proposes a hypothesis then it is also necessary to show how it might work.

From the archaeological perspective which is the only method available to show if Earhart and Noonan were at one of the campfire sites one must be able to say what it is about the faunal evidence at the campfire site that distinguish some as the aviators' leavings, and others as the leavings of natives or other Europeans. If one cannot then there can be no point in citing the data simply because it cannot be tied to the event you are examining. Certainly you can include it as an appendix to a report as a general statement of faunal remains that are undifferentiated as to who is responsible for them - and this is what TIGHAR have correctly done.

However it is the people who are reading that data who are the ones imposing unsubstantiated statements and hypotheses as to who may have been responsible for the faunal evidence concentrated at those campfires. My intention was simply to go back to the primary data, in this case the ethnographic account in the Bushnell report, to show the manner in which the Polynesians of the PISS settlement actually made use of this particular food resource and their reason for doing so. From that we are left with two options for accounting for the faunal evidence found at the campfires -

1. We admit an inability to differentiate between what could be the native meals and the meals of Earhart or Noonan, or

2. If we push the argument that these faunal remains are, in part or in whole, a result of Earhart's or Noonan's activities we must then show what evidence we have that supports that claim.

So like most things in the matter of the Gardner Island hypothesis it is a precise identification needed - not just another claim.         
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Gary LaPook

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Re: Fish Traps
« Reply #11 on: April 17, 2012, 12:28:05 AM »

Hello Jeff

One other problem I have with the matter of Earhart and Noonan catching birds is how did they do it? Admittedly the Booby is not know as the Booby for nothing so it may have been comparatively easy if they weren't use to human beings. There is sufficient evidence to show that Europeans were eating them because that is how they got the name - sailors would catch them because they would land on ships. However I suspect that given the general level of awfulness of the diet of pre-20th century sailors at sea anything that tasted different to half-rotten salt beef or weavils would be a delicacy  :) Polynesians on the other hand had a far better and more varied diet.

Last night on "Surviorman" it showed him just beating the booby to death with a stick, looked pretty easy to me.

On a funny note, contrast this with the show, several weeks ago on "Mythbusters" where they also did an island survival show featuring duct tape. One of the things they did was to construct a snare to catch a wild bird and they finally succeeded. Then it showed them eating the bird after roasting in on a stick like "Survivorman." Then they confessed that they did not actually kill the bird that they had captured but had let it go and had sent out for some chicken. Well, what would you expect from a show based in San Francisco.

gl
« Last Edit: April 17, 2012, 12:29:41 AM by Gary LaPook »
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Malcolm McKay

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Re: Fish Traps
« Reply #12 on: April 17, 2012, 07:28:43 AM »


As you say the food evidence seems jumbled.  It has been claimed that the fish was prepared in a way that the natives don't and that they do not eat reef fish. Yet fish traps would point to the catching of reef fish?

AT the risk of appearing silly (a risk I take and suffer from often  :) ) I can say that I have no idea how one could differentiate jumbled fish bones to tell by whom they were cooked and eaten. Or even differentiate fish species - on all the digs I worked where animal bones and other fauna were present we had people who were trained in that to do the analysis. An archaeologist is at times nothing more than a ditch digger with lots of letters after their names  ;D

However given the previously noted concern felt by the Polynesians about eating reef fish because of that poison ciguatera ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ciguatera ) they ingested from reef flora I might suggest that if a fire place was found which had around it fish bones of reef fish then you might make a informed guess that this could be the remains of a European's meal. Now in the Bushnell Report (1st Part page 3) http://tighar.org/aw/mediawiki/images/5/52/Bushnell_Part_1.pdf  there is an interesting sentence which reads

"It is advisable at all islands with lagoon access to the sea to eschew the Red Snapper and small reef fish".

Now is this is a reference to that poison they pick up? quite probably as that report is a pretty good study of the islander habits. Red Snapper is a popular and fine tasting fish while snapper of various types world wide are extremely popular. In fact I would suggest that anyone who was a castaway on an island like Nikumaroro and familiar with eating fish would happily seek out Red Snapper. They are a largish fish and unlike small reef fish would provide a good meal in one catch. However if that person did not know that the fish could carry ciguatera from the reef flora then they would also poison themselves, so theoretically a camp site with a small midden that contained Red Snapper bones, or any reef fish for that matter, might just be that of a European.

Again that is no more than a simple conjecture based on some known information but it is far from being any real working explanation to differentiate midden contents by the ethnicity of the person who produced some of the midden's contents. There is nothing to say that a Nikumaroroan couldn't have eaten the same fish and not got ill and also ciguatera doesn't seem to be present at all times so in the fish food chain some fish might simply not eat a contaminated herbivorous fish - it seems to be a bit of a lottery. Which is all to say I ain't no expert on this  :D

Edit: And yes the presence of fish traps inside the lagoon either makes a lie of the supposed Nikumaroroan reluctance to eat reef fish, or the fish traps are of non-Polynesian origin and that may make them European. But as there was a veritable flood of Europeans through the island from 1937 to 1946 then which Europeans? A puzzle indeed.
« Last Edit: April 17, 2012, 07:41:36 AM by Malcolm McKay »
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Malcolm McKay

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Re: Fish Traps
« Reply #13 on: April 17, 2012, 06:50:20 PM »

Malcolm,

not sure if you've read this report TIGHAR report to Kiribati government/PIPA.

As ever it does not flatly say that the fish found have been cooked in a western manner, neither does it say not.  What is interesting is the high proportion of small reef fish such as clown fish that were found.

Ciguatera is interesting as I have found conflicting information about it as I have been looking into the subject.  It seems that in the central pacific that it has only recently become a problem and that in the 30's was less of a problem especially on uninhabited islands.

However on more populus islands it was an issue, hence the apparent reluctance of natives to eat certain fish.

Another site suggests that it exists in small amounts on most islands and can gradually build up in someone through repeated eating of infected fish and molluscs.

Thanks Chris

Hadn't seen that but it shows a wide variety. The small sample seems to makes distinguishing cooking methods difficult. Regarding ciguatera that was my impression also and I wonder if it isn't something that seems to be more recognised now than in the period we are looking at. I note that the symptoms seem to mimic other illnesses as well in the milder infections and that its overall effect seems to vary between mildly debilitating for a short time to longer term debility in some cases. So I wonder if the Polynesians were as worried about it as some accounts suggest. Also in exercises like these where ethnographic and anthropological accounts are being used the understanding of a subject depends very much upon who the researcher asks, and also there is the "politeness" factor which so often can distort the accounts given to outsiders by indigenous populations - i.e. people will answer a question not with the truth but with what they think will make the enquirer happy. That is why in matters of anthropological study deep immersion in a group for an extended period is the best method because gradually the outsider loses their novelty status and normal cultural life resumes.

Anyway that is departing from the subject rather too much. In the final analysis it appears to me that the Nikumaroroans used both reef and sea fish and that whoever was responsible for the fireplaces (European or local) was doing the same. Certainly the one identified fish trap in the lagoon is evidence enough to indicate that to some the putative safety tabu on reef fish was not in place. But that doesn't bring us any closer to knowing if Earhart and Noonan were involved with those sites or indeed if they were on the island.

This is interesting stuff - takes me back to my undergraduate days when I studied Pacific ethnography under a professor who himself had done work with Harry Maude. That's the Harry Maude who led the PISS team in 1937.
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Malcolm McKay

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Re: Fish Traps
« Reply #14 on: April 17, 2012, 08:33:58 PM »


Given Gary's report and what I recall (but haven't found to post yet) about the nature of the birds on Gardner (not afraid of man and easy prey) -

AE: "Dang I'm hungry; stupid birds kept coming right up here and finally stole all my graham crackers - so close I could have beat them with a... say, wait a minute... "

I rest.

Well I'm not denying that idea - desperation is the mother of indigestion after all, but what I am saying is that just stating that a hungry person will eat anything more or less doesn't answer the primary question which is, were Earhart and Noonan on Nikumaroro and can we find evidence in the faunal remains to support this hypothesis.  :)
« Last Edit: April 17, 2012, 08:35:56 PM by Malcolm McKay »
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