Journal of Maritime Archaeology

, Volume 8, Issue 1, pp 29–57 | Cite as

Reviving Community Spirit: Furthering the Sustainable, Historical and Economic Role of Fish Weirs and Traps

  • Bill Jeffery
Original Paper


Stone wall fish weirs and traps were once an important means for inland and coastal communities to catch fish. In many places the weirs and traps have been left to deteriorate and other more productive but less sustainable practices have taken their place. It was considered that they have fulfilled their historical and economic role and it was the loss of community spirit that has contributed to their decline. A recent survey in Yap, Federated States of Micronesia found a diverse and extensive number of fish weirs and traps, and a community keen to restore and reinvigorate their associated cultural practices and community spirit. The paper draws on comparative data from other places of the world to investigate weirs and traps, and to see if a similar revival could be observed. Of importance was a need to highlight the value of pursuing this type of research for contemporary communities and maritime archaeological practitioners in the current international management framework for underwater cultural heritage.


Fish weir Fish trap Underwater cultural heritage Yap Federated States of Micronesia South Africa Taiwan Tanzania Pohnpei Palau 



I dedicate this paper to James Lukan who passed away in October 2012. Lukan was a very likeable friend and colleague, and like so many Yapese, dedicated to maintaining their cultural heritage and traditional practices. I would like to thank the people of the Yap, FSM; Yap HPO staff particularly James Lukan, Francis Reg, John Runman and William Pitmag; and Sibongile Van Damme, Jon Sharman, Shawn Berry in South Africa for making me feel at home when participating in these projects and for the great help from other colleagues in realizing the project outcomes. I would also like to thank the staff of the Tree Valley Foundation Archaeological Centre in Tainan and in particular colleague Wang Yu for her liaison with the Jibei Shihu Museum in Penghu. I acknowledge the great support of Paula Creech, Coordinator of the Micronesian Historic Preservation Program in Oakland, USA; staff of the HPO Offices in Pohnpei, Chuuk and Yap in the FSM; Robert Parthesius and staff of the CIE, Leiden, Netherlands; the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in South Africa, and the South African Heritage Resources Agency. Finally I would like to thank Shawn Berry, Doug Farrer, Jeremy Green, Vivienne Moran and Wang Yu for providing critical comments on this paper.


  1. Adams WH (ed) (1997) Yap archaeology. Archaeological survey of Gachlaw village, Gilman municipality, Yap, Federated States of Micronesia. Micronesian Resources Study, Micronesian Endowment for Historic Preservation, Federated States of Micronesia and U.S. National Park Service, San FranciscoGoogle Scholar
  2. Amesbury J, Cushing F, Skamoto R (1986) Guide to the coastal resources of Guam volume 3. Fishing on Guam. University of Guam Marine Laboratory, MangilaoGoogle Scholar
  3. Avery G (1975) Discussion on the age and use of tidal Fish Traps (Visvywers). S Afr Archaeol Bull 30:105–113CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Ayers W (1983) Archaeology at Nan Madol, Ponape. Bull Indo Pacific Prehist Assoc 4:135–142Google Scholar
  5. Bascom WR (1965) Ponape: a pacific economy in transition. Anthropological records volume 22. University of California Press, BerkeleyGoogle Scholar
  6. Bellwood P (2006) Austronesian prehistory in Southeast Asia: homeland, expansion and transformation. In: Bellwood P, Fox JJ, Tyron D (eds) The austronesians: historical and comparative perspectives. The Australian National University E Press, CanberraGoogle Scholar
  7. Bellwood P, Dizon E (2005) The batanes archaeological project and the “Out of Taiwan” hypothesis for Austronesian dispersal. J Austronesian Stud 1(1):1–32Google Scholar
  8. Bowen G (1998) Towards a generic technique for dating stone fish traps and weirs. Aust Archaeol 47:39–43Google Scholar
  9. Byram RS (2002) Brush fences and basket traps: the archaeology and ethnohistory of tidewater weir fishing on the Oregon coast. PhD Dissertation, University of OregonGoogle Scholar
  10. Chen CT (1960) A survey of fishing gear used in the coastal fishery of Taiwan. Taipei [in Chinese]Google Scholar
  11. Chen TP (1976) Aquaculture practices in Taiwan. FarnhamGoogle Scholar
  12. Cheng-Hwa T (2001) Maritime adaptations in prehistoric Southeast Chine: implications for the problem of Austronesian expansion. J East Asian Archaeol 3(1–2):15–46CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Davidson J (1967) Preliminary archaeological investigations on Ponape and other Eastern Caroline Islands. Micronesica 3:81–97Google Scholar
  14. Deacon J (1998) South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA), Internal report no. 9/2/079/09Google Scholar
  15. Dieudonne F (ed) (2002) The Pacific islands and the sea: 350 years of reporting on royal fishponds, coral reefs and ancient walled fish weirs in Oceania. Neptune House, Encinitas, CAGoogle Scholar
  16. Falanruw MC (1992) Traditional use of the marine environment on Yap. Paper presented at the Science of Pacific Island Peoples Conference, Suva, FijiGoogle Scholar
  17. Falanruw MC (2010) Varieties of aech in relation to Marine Habitat. In: Jeffery B, Pitmag W (eds) The aech of Yap: a survey of sites and their histories. Yap State Historic Preservation Office, pp 110–113Google Scholar
  18. Gabriel O, Lange K, Dahm E, Wendt T (eds) (2005) Fish catching methods of the world. Blackwell Publishing, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  19. Goodwin AJH (1946) Prehistoric fishing methods in South Africa. Antiquity 20:134–141Google Scholar
  20. Hine P (2008) An Archaeological study of stone-wall fish traps along the Southern Cape coast. Unpublished MA Thesis, University of Cape TownGoogle Scholar
  21. Hunter-Anderson R (1981) Yapese stone fish weirs. Asian Perspect 24(1):81–91Google Scholar
  22. Hunter-Anderson RL (1983a) Yapese social stratification and archaeological consequences for the study of fishing adaptation. In: Anderson A (ed) Traditional fishing in the pacific: ethnographical and archaeological papers from the 15th Pacific Science Congress, 1983, Dunedin, N. Z. Pacific Anthropological Records 37. Department of Anthropology, Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, HonoluluGoogle Scholar
  23. Hunter-Anderson RL (1983b) Yapese settlement patterns: an ethno-archaeological approach. Pacific Studies Institute, Agana, GuamGoogle Scholar
  24. Jeffery B (2011) Rocks wrecks and relevance: values and benefits in maritime and underwater cultural heritage. In: Proceedings of the inaugural Asia-Pacific regional conference on underwater cultural heritage. Asian Academy for Heritage Management. Manila, Philippines, pp 527–539. Available online
  25. Jeffery B, Parthesius R (2012) Planning for the future: benefits in building local and regional capacities in implementing maritime and underwater cultural heritage (MUCH) programmes. In: Tan H (ed) Maritime archaeology in Southeast Asia, Innovation and Adaptation. Asian Civilisations Museum, Singapore, pp 164–182Google Scholar
  26. Jeffery B, Pitmag W (2010) The aech of Yap: A survey of sites and their histories. Yap State Historic Preservation Office, Yap, Federated States of MicronesiaGoogle Scholar
  27. Kemp LV (2006) Ancient stonewall fish traps on the south coast of South Africa: documentation, current use, ecological effects and management implications. Unpublished M Sc Thesis, University of Cape TownGoogle Scholar
  28. Masse WB (1986) A millennium of fishing in the Palau Islands, Micronesia. In: Anderson A (ed) Traditional fishing in the Pacific: ethnographical and archaeological papers from the 15th Pacific science congress no 37 Pacific anthropological records. Department of Anthropology, Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, HonoluluGoogle Scholar
  29. Moore J (1987) Current fishing practices and use of marine resources in the Outer Islands. Yap State fishing authority, manuscript of file at MARC, University of Guam, MangilaoGoogle Scholar
  30. Müller W (1917) Yap. Ergebnisse der Sudsee-Expedition 1908–10, Ethnographie Micronesien. Freiderichsen and Co., HamburgGoogle Scholar
  31. Nishimura A (1968) Living fossils of oldest fishing gear in Japan. VIIIth International Congress of Anthropologicaland Ethnological Sciences, Tokyo and KyotoGoogle Scholar
  32. Nishimura A (1975) Cultural and social change in the modes of ownership of stone tidal weirs. In: Casteel RH, Quimbi GJ (eds) Maritime adaptations of the Pacific. The Hague, pp 77–88Google Scholar
  33. Parthesius R, Jeffery B (2013) Building country-relevant programmes to support the implementation of the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage 2001. Article in press, University of Leiden Press, LeidenGoogle Scholar
  34. Rowland M, Ulm S (2011) Indigenous fish traps and weirs of Queensland. Qld Archaeol Res 14:1–58Google Scholar
  35. Ruechugrad P (2010) Using aech. In: Jeffery B, Pitmag W (2010) The aech of Yap: a survey of sites and their histories. Yap State Historic Preservation Office, pp 114–117Google Scholar
  36. Smith MK (2001) ‘Community’ in the encyclopedia of informal education, Accessed 24 October 2012
  37. South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA) (2009) Internal report no. 9/2/079/09Google Scholar
  38. Suriura K (1939) Fishing in Yap. J Anthropol 54.2Google Scholar
  39. Takeda J (2001) Fishing-gleaning activities on reef flats and/or reef margins in coral ecosystem in Yap, Federated States of Micronesia (FSM). Kagoshima University Research Center for the Pacific Islands, Occasional papers no. 34, pp 117–127Google Scholar
  40. Thomas F (2009) Historical ecology in Kiribati: linking past with present. Pac Sci 63(4):567–600CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Uwate KR (1987) Survey of reef ownership, ownership enforcement, and fishing rights in Yap proper: 1986. Marine Resources Management Division, Yap State Department of Resources and Development, Yap, Federated States of MicronesiaGoogle Scholar
  42. Welz AI (2002) Fish trap placement! The environmental and cultural influences in fish trap placement along the Australian Coastline. BA Honours thesis, University of South AustraliaGoogle Scholar
  43. Yap Cultural Inventory Group (YCIG) (n.d.) Ethnography of Yap. Unpublished document, Yap Historic Preservation Office, pp 1–16Google Scholar
  44. Zayas CN (2004) Atob and bato: two sides of Philippine lithic heritage. Philipinas 43:55–70Google Scholar
  45. Zayas CN (2011) Describing stewardship of the common sea among Atob fishers of the Pacific Rim Islands: cases from the Philippines, Taiwan and Japan. South Pacific Stud 31(2):71–80Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Micronesian Area Research CenterUniversity of GuamMangilaoGuam
  2. 2.Maritime and Underwater Cultural Heritage ProgrammeCIE-Centre for International Heritage ActivitiesLeidenThe Netherlands
  3. 3.Hong Kong Maritime MuseumCentralHong Kong

Personalised recommendations