Ancient shrimp pot design inspires experiment

For the past three years, Squaxin Island tribal member Josh Mason has been making traditional fishing gear based on ancient artifacts. In a recent experiment with a cedar shrimp pot he found the old version every bit as effective as today’s model.

“I was so excited, I really wanted to give the pot a try,” Mason said. He asked his cousin Daniel Kuntz, a commercial crabber, to give him a hand. “I bugged Dan and told him that we have to fish this thing,” he said.

They secured the pot to one of Kuntz’s crab pots and let it soak for under an hour.

“When we brought it out there, I was like, ‘Okay we’ll give it a try, we’ll see what happens,’ ” Kuntz said.

“The first time we pulled it up we had 13 shrimp,” Mason said. “The second time we pulled it up we had 23 shrimp.”

“I didn’t have any expectations,” Kuntz said. “The first time we pulled it up, I was like ‘What? Holy cow! Let’s get this thing back down there. Let’s get some time on this thing.’ ”

Like contemporary shrimp pots, the cedar pot works by allowing shrimp to enter the main chamber through a tunnel. Shrimp follow the walls as they try to escape, but an inverted rim directs them back to the pot’s center.

“The design of it was pretty ingenious that our ancestors came up with,” Mason said. “With the technology that they had, they could understand how shrimp couldn’t swim straight up.”

Mason studied under Ed Carriere, a master weaver and Suquamish tribal member. He based the design on a 3,000-year-old pot found near the mouth of Hood Canal. “When researchers first looked at it, they assumed it was a crab pot,” Mason said. “But they were able to find shrimp DNA on it.”

Mason made an earlier shrimp pot based on a 2,500-year-old artifact. He’s also made a fish trap and a clam basket.

The cedar pot is durable compared to contemporary metal and rubber shrimp pots. “It holds its own with modern pots,” Mason said. “Even after the pot had been in the water for a long time, I thought it would be loosened up. It kept its shape.”

“The biggest difference between this pot and one you’d buy today is that it’s all organic. If one of those new ones falls apart, you have junk,” Mason said. “If this one falls apart, I guess you have firewood.”

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