A Small-scale, Traditional, Sustainable Way to Fish

Indigenous peoples have employed various sustainable ways of obtaining food. Using a fish trap is just one of them.

by Claudette Fleming

The Kingfisher and indigenous people methods of fishing have one commonality — they are sustainable. No fish is wasted and there is always fish for tomorrow.

Traditional lowland indigenous peoples of South America most often fish daily and tend to fish only for the family and maybe other vulnerable members of the community, e.g. the elderly. Sometimes fish is preserved for future use, but fresh fish is always preferred. An advantage of daily fishing is that the catch is at its freshest. One important sustainable way to fish is to use a cell-type fish trap.

Fish Traps

Fish Traps have been used for many, many moons now and are still used today.

A trap is usually set in nearby water within walking or paddling distance from the home and is normally checked for fish on a daily basis.

Depending on the area, traps can be of different designs. One type of trap used in shallow water is made of cane and the lure to the trap is termite or wood-ants. Where there is a rise and fall of the tide, a water pen made of palm, with roasted corn as the lure can be used.

A flooded plain trap in use

This trap is set in shallow water and is woven like a basket, often with openings big enough for small fish to escape. The bait which is the live termite nest is placed in the basket. A weight is also put in to prevent the trap from floating away and to keep the opening below the water. The mouth of the trap is wide, so fish can swim in. A thick covering of water weeds is placed on top so as to disguise the trap and to encourage fish to enter.


  • The trap only shuts in fish of a certain size
  • Fish is always alive
  • Smaller, growing fish can escape
  • Fish can swim out of the trap or remain in shallow water and
    will not die if not taken out.
  • Bait is organic and comes from the surroundings
  • The trap is biodegradable
  • No economic cost
  • Time that might be spent line fishing can be spent on other
  • Some traps can be multi-purpose


  • Other prey can enter or destroy the trap
  • Traps have to be specific to the water area
  • Only fish of certain species are attracted to the lure
  • The trap only traps fish of a certain size

Editor’s addition: For good measure, the following videos show a couple of different kinds of indigenous fish traps:

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