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Traditional Atule Fishing

May 30, 2011


Atule harvest in Fagsa

In some years, atule (akule) are the most abundant fish species caught in local subsistence and recreational catches. Information about the life cycle of this species (also known as the bigeye scad, Selar crumenophthalmus ) is sparse. We know only that atule  appear in some years and usually at specific coastal locations. They may reside temporarily on a reef-flat for a few months and migrate offshore each night to feed on plankton and small fish.

 Atule are thought to be a fast-growing, short-lived species that reaches 12 inches in length. Local catches of fish 6-10 inches in length consist of both juveniles and larger fish that appear to be potential spawners. On Tutuila Island, there’s a legend about the atule that appear in Fagasa Bay.  

Years ago, the Polynesian navigator Liava’a sailed to Tutuila in search of the pure waters of Fagasa. The boat accidently departed while his daughter, Sina, was still ashore collecting fresh water. When Liava’a realized this later, he became enraged and threw his entire crew into the sea with orders for them to return to Fagasa, find Sina and protect her forever. To expedite their return to Fagasa, the men were transformed into dolphins that then herded a school of atule to shore to make certain all who cared for Sina would be well fed. Sina was adopted by the family of High Chief Lilio in Fagasa Village.

Atule catch

Liava’a, however, never gave up his search for Sina and years later they were briefly reunited. Tradition holds that, upon the death of Liava’a and Sina, their memories were forever preserved in special stones that are protected to this day by HC Lilio who is responsible for all events related to the atule harvest, thereby preserving the village’s continuing appreciation for the generous gift of these fish. The tradition continues. When atule arrive in Fagasa, an ava ceremony is held in appreciation for this bounty. The stones are cleaned and when the time is right, the villagers carry coconut fronds into the water to herd the fish into the shallows where they are collected in enu baskets which are emptied into the ola basket.


2 Comments leave one →
  1. Elena I Savea (Lili'o) permalink
    November 28, 2011 7:52 pm

    this story about Sina and the atule is absolutely true….the two heavy stones mentioned are still exist and they are kept on one of our family land…my father who passed away in 2009 used to clean these two stones with some of the men(aumaga) from the village when the time is right…the dolphins are the first signs of the sightings of the atule….it’s so fun doing this back home when I was young ‘cos everyone has to join in with coconut fronds into the water to herd the atule into the shallows…baskets are used to collect the atule.. furthermore, I miss my family back home♥♥


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