Human Ecology

, Volume 45, Issue 1, pp 53–65 | Cite as

Northwest Coast Halibut Hooks: an Evolving Tradition of Form, Function, and Fishing

  • Jonathan MalindineEmail author


The Northwest Coast (NWC) halibut hook is both an indigenous fishing technology, and an iconic object of rich cultural history. This study utilizes biological, statistical, ecological, and ethnographic data to examine the function(s) of NWC halibut hooks, and how and why dimensions are changing through time. Analyses of measurements from 143 specimens, dated from 1867 to 2015, suggest a statistically significant increase in overall length through time. These findings support the hypothesis that as the use of modern fishing technologies became more prevalent, and traditional NWC halibut hooks largely lost their original function (i.e., catching halibut), dimensions changed to favor decorative or symbolic content over utilitarian/functional requirements. Archival data, peer-reviewed literature, and ethnographic interviews with contemporary carvers and fishers support the assertion that average dimensions of early NWC halibut hooks targeted fish between 20 and 100 lbs., thus promoting sustainability of Pacific halibut breeding populations. Whether the hooks were designed intentionally to promote sustainability or this size of fish was targeted for other reasons remains an open question.


Pacific Northwest Coast Halibut Fish hooks Sustainability Traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) 



For their generous collaboration and support I offer my most sincere thanks to Jon Rowan, Leslie Isaacs, Vaughn Skinna, Aldona Jonaitis, Robin Wright, Tommy Joseph, Donald Gregory, Arthur and Louanna Nelson, Ed. E. Bryant, Greer Zerboni, Candace Greene, Nancy Parezo, Emily Buhrow, Dave Rosenthal, Roger Topp, Angela Linn, Kathy Dye, Jan Timbrook, Greg Wilson, and Francis “Amps” Carle.

Compliance with Ethical Standards


This study was funded by The Smithsonian Institution and the National Science Foundation.

Conflict of Interest

The author declares that he has no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of CaliforniaSanta BarbaraUSA

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