Weir fishing still endures as a sustainable practice, thanks to a few hardy Cape Cod fishermen.
The period from 1870 to 1930 was the heyday of weir fishing on Cape Cod, when weir-caught fish accounted for around a quarter of all New England seafood that went to market. In those days, earthen colored nets hanging from hickory poles poked from the surface of the water all over Nantucket Sound and Cape Cod Bay. The catch was split up into baitfish for the big schooners that plied the Grand Banks, fishing for cod and halibut, and the rest was put on railway cars and shipped to consumer markets in Boston and New York City. To store the quantities being shipped, freezer houses sprung up from Truro to the Cape Cod Canal.
Today, Ernie Eldredge, his wife, Shareen Davis, and his brother John oversee one of the last weir fishing businesses on Cape Cod, Chatham Fisheries and the Monomoy Trap Company.
“This is probably the most sustainable fishery in the world,” says Davis of the ancient technique that involves corralling fish with a stationary structure comprised of wooden poles, ropes, and nets. “It’s a method of gathering, rather than targeting, fish.”