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Traditional Fishing Methods

January 22, 2013

Modern fishing gear has replaced most traditional fishing practices in American Samoa. Fish are now
caught by rod & reel, metal spears propelled by elastic bands, and monofilament gillnets and thrownets. But a few traditional practices persist. Two of these are described elsewhere in this booklet (fishing for atule and palolo). A third method called ‘gleaning’ involves the age-old practice of hand-picking the reefs at low tide for edible invertebrates like octopus (fe’e), giant clams (faisua), and turban snails (alili).

Samoan elder shows child to make an enu basket

Samoan elder shows child to make an enu basket

Another traditional fishing method still practiced in Manu’a is catching i’asina (small goatfish) in a handwoven funnel trap called enu. I’asina are small fish (about 3.5 inches) that have just completed their pelagic existence as eggs and larvae in offshore waters and are now returning to the reefs to live for the remainder of their lives. Thousands of i’asina (Mulloidichthys flavolineatus) may appear along sandy shorelines during the months of October-April. There is little biological concern in harvesting them for human consumption, because their numbers are massive and most will be consumed by predatory fish.

The enu basket is constructed with ‘ie’ie vines that are first buried in a beach pit to soak in seawater for a week, after which the vines are cleaned and hung to dry.

The coconut sennit (afa) used to tie the ‘ie’ie vines together is obtained from the husks of the niusami coconut. The husks are soaked in the sand pit for two weeks and then pounded to separate the fibers. Over 100 feet of braided fibers are needed to build the basket. The local custom is that the enu must be completed before the fish start running or it cannot be used that year. To catch the fish, the trap is buried half way in shallow water along a sandy shoreline.

The traps are baited with hermit crabs (uga) that have been pounded and mixed with sand. I’asina are eaten fresh or deep fried, or they are frozen. I’asina are also caught on Tutuila, but by different methods. In Leone, lau (coconut fronds) are used to herd the fish over a net laid on the bottom of a shallow pool. Other villages catch the small fish with finemeshed thrownets or wire traps. Note also that Fagasa’s enu basket is constructed differently and is used to harvest atule fish.

Samoan fisherman harvesting fish

Samoan fisherman harvesting fish

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