Dawn dory

Chatham trappers dory

At sunrise in Stage Harbor in Chatham, Albert Young rows into the harbor to start the day working the fish weirs. Young rows with just a single thole pin to hold each oar, a reflection of his lifetime on the water. The dory will be towed behind the sturdy 30-foot trap boat and be used for a variety of tasks around the weirs.

Spring work

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The trap boat leaves the dock at the Smith and Welsh trap company on Herring River in Harwich in early April. The 40-foot poles will be sunk into the flats to hold the trap nets.

Inside the weir

Chatham trappers inside

The central circle of weir net held by poles is a bowl 200 feet wide. Using the dory, Butch Young pulls himself around the inside of the bowl to free it from the poles. Once freed the net, and the fish it holds, will be hauled to the big trap boat by hand.

A live catch

Chatham trappers tend

After the crew has released the central net of the weir from the posts and shortened it up to concentrate the fish, the fish are dip-netted out by hand. The quality of weir-caught fish, unbruised and taken alive, was their main selling point.

Shortening the bowl

Chatham trappers Albert

In a timeless New England scene, Albert Young hauls in the central weir net – the bowl – by hand, with the dory tied up behind him.

The weir

the weir wp

Cat’s cradles of spindly poles and intricate lines, these fish traps stood as symbols of constancy. About 60 to 100 40-foot poles hold the netting for each weir. The heart of the weir, called “the bowl,” is a circle of net, about 200 feet across, with a single small opening on one side. A line of poles about 1,000 yards long creates a vertical wall of net, called “the leader,” that extends outward from the opening.

Separating the catch

Chatham trappers checkers

As the fish are netted out of the weir, they are into open compartments, called “checkers,” where the catch is separated by species, since the wholesale prices of fish varied from species to species. In the foreground are checkers holding summer flounder, bonito and bluefish,

Mending the weir net

Chatham trappers mend

A dipnet full of scup rests on the trap boat gunwale as Tony Coccoro repeats the endless task of repairing tears in the weir net.

Escorted home

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Seagulls follow the trap boat back, waiting for discards. But unlike most fisheries, weir fishing had virtually no waste to feed the birds. Only the desirable market fish were dip-netted live from the trap.

The next generation

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Boys inspect the checker full of squid as the trap boat offloads in Stage Harbor.