An Examination of Indigenous Halibut Fishing Technology on the Northwest Coast of North America

Jacob Salmen-Hartley and Iain McKechnie


As global fish populations face threats from climatic change and human exploitation, the value of Indigenous knowledge and technology for guiding restoration and conservation efforts is gaining increasing recognition. Indigenous fishers on the Northwest Coast of North America traditionally employed sophisticated harvesting practices developed through long-term relationships with marine ecosystems, which promoted sustained harvests. Here we examine traditional Pacific halibut (Hippoglossus stenolepis) hook technology which has been shown to reduce bycatch of nontarget species and is often described as highly size-selective. We investigate this technology using ethnographic information, analysis of fishing equipment curated in museums, and measurements of modern halibut. We identify regional variation and overlap in hook styles, expand previously established hook typologies, and observe the greatest number of hooks and the most stylistic diversity originating from Haida Gwaii, a location where available zooarchaeological data indicates high halibut abundance. We demonstrate that two measurements (hook lip-gap and barb-area size) disproportionately influence the maximum and minimum body size. Based on hook and modern fish measurements, we estimate the sample of hooks targeted fish between 53 and 145 cm in length, indicating a broad but flexible size-selectivity that has presentday relevance for fisheries conservation, including nonmortality slot-limit fishing.

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