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.

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.

Weighing the catch

Chatham trappers weigh

Back at the dock at Stage Harbor, the catch is boxed for market. The most valuable, by far, was the loligo squid that command a premium price because the soft bodies and speckled pink skin of weir-caught squid are not crushed and bruised.

Lunch at the shanty

Chatham trappers lunch

The catch weighed and loaded on the truck, trap company owner Francis Jones has lunch in large shanty that acts as a warehouse and office for the trap company. Work gloves hang on a line to dry behind him.

Day’s end

Chatham trappers days end

At day’s end, Francis Jones secures the skiffs as his truck waits on the dock in Stage Harbor. Jones was the third generation to run the family trapping business out of Stage Harbor. Crewman Butch Young was the second generation in the company, working side-by-side with his father, Albert, who had worked for Fran’s father, Norman, while Fran was just a boy.