The entrapment of a trap ban: how fixed gear fishing prohibitions have shaped fisheries practices in the lower Columbia River, United States
Heather Swanson (Aarhus University)
Paper short abstract:
How can efforts to avoid getting trapped themselves prove entrapping? Based on ethnographic and archival research in the U.S. Pacific Northwest, this paper probes how fishermen’s opposition to fish traps, due to fears about the social structures they might create, has proved confining for them.
Paper long abstract:
Traps aim to avoid arousing fear—until it is too late to escape. Panic begins when one realizes one is about to be caught. But it is not always easy, this paper argues, to tell whether one is "free" or on the verge of "capture." In the late 19th century, there were more than 120 fish traps operating in the lower Columbia River. The traps were lucrative for their owners, but unpopular with the region's gillnet fishermen. The fishermen feared that traps entrapped the community—that they created the wrong kind of subjects and social order, concentrating wealth in the hands of a small, lazy owner class that merely waited for fish. In contrast, the fishermen cast their nets as the technology aligned with American "freedom" and Jeffersonian yeoman ideals. They ultimately won over government support, and traps were banned. The banning of traps, however, has proved entrapping. Today, some of the river's salmon are listed as endangered species. Gillnets, which often kill fish before they are hauled in, do not allow fishermen to sort out endangered and un-endangered fish. There is now a movement to ban most commercial fishing to protect the endangered fish, and the fishermen risk losing their "freedom" to fish. Traps, which keep fish alive in their holds, would work well for sorting out and releasing endangered fish, allowing for a robust fishery. But after decades of arguments against traps, their use is now almost unthinkable, and the fishermen find themselves trapped in a new way.