Fish on the menu thanks to archaeological trap

Students with the Kerikeri-based Impact Northland Trust enjoyed a taste of fishing the traditional way recently using a stone fish trap that is hundreds of years old.  

The students and their Kaiako, Brian and Michelle Heihei, joined with Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga staff to see if the archaeological fish trap at Quince’s Landing, about 15 minutes away from Kerikeri, still does the job.  

It certainly does.  

The fish trap is an ingenious device that was used by Māori to trap fish at high tide, with the fish trapped behind a net as the waters recede. The upper part of the stream is all but blocked off by a rock wall, with only a narrow opening which allows the water to flow out as the tide goes out.  

With the narrow opening blocked by a net – or a curtain of brushwood – the fish are unable to escape and once the tide is out become easy pickings for people using handnets, and even their bare hands.  

Despite being a bit early in the season, the fish were still present – along with a good supply of oysters.  

The students then learned how to flake obsidian to make a sharp blade that could then be used to scale and gut their fish prior to being cooked on an open fire – again using skills that would have been used by their tupuna.  

When asked what he particularly enjoyed about the experience, student JJ replied, “the fishing – catching the fish with a net!”.  

And according to Kaiako Brian Heihei the fish trap has some important lessons to offer today’s young people.  

“The experience was a great way for the rangatahi to see a fish trap in action, and to see how inventive our tupuna were in developing technology that enabled them to feed the people,” he says.  

“It really was a hands-on learning experience which helped them to see their heritage in action.”

- John O'Hare