Weir fishing is a physically demanding enterprise with a revolving cast of natural challenges. Weather, wind, tide, and bait patterns all affect each harvest. It can be as unpredictable as the schooling patterns of large numbers of fish—some simply swim right past the weir. And the ever-expanding seal population has been a big problem: Seals not only get in the bowl end and wreak havoc on the stock, but have even begun to drive the fish out, reducing yields. Some mornings the fishermen might go out to find the bowl completely wiped out, the seals having come in the night.
The company has been working with biologist Owen Nichols, Director of Marine Fisheries Research at the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies, for several years. Nichols and other fishermen log daily catch data by hand. Temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, and tide heights are recorded every 15 minutes using battery-powered data loggers attached directly to the weirs. Nichols is hoping to determine the environmental effects on the catch rate of squid and what that means for fishery management as part of his dissertation work with the School for Marine Science and Technology at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.
Since he started doing research on the weirs in 2007, Nichols estimates that the number of weir fishing operations have been at least halved. Today, the only remaining operations on the Cape are the three Eldredge/Davis weirs and a single weir strung by Nantucket Sound Fish Weirs, run by commercial fisherman Kurt Martin of Orleans, who has been working fish weirs since he was a teenager.