I have been pleasantly surprised that many of my adventures for the year have led me to the coastal village of Laborie. On my first work assignment to the village earlier in the year, photographer Bill Mortley and I had cause to rest near the Laborie jetty where we happened upon a group of men jovially going about their duties. Some were shredding bamboo. Some were weaving it into a giant basket. Some were nailing pieces of wood to completed baskets. Some were loading it onto vessels.
You guessed it! The men were making fish pots. They were quite welcoming to my recorder and Bill’s camera (a trait I have noticed ingrained in many Laborians) and tried to impress on us the importance of keeping their craft alive—complaining that the rewards of sweat and blood mean nothing to the younger generation.
On a more recent trip to the south west coast of the village to learn about Ma Milwad’s life story, I was just about to begin a steady climb up a flight of stairs, when, in the corner of my eye something caught my attention. A man on the side of the road. It was a hot midday morning and he was fitting a frame onto a giant woven basket.
I approached the man who seemed to be more focused on completing his task than entertaining any sort of conversation. He warmed up eventually and introduced himself as Joseph Lore. He explained that a fish pot is difficult to build, especially if you choose to use bamboo.
He said, “You have to get the bamboo from the country and you cannot do anything with it unless you split it. Only then will you be able to bend it and weave it until you weave the entire pot.
“You have to be very careful with bamboo. It is a very sharp thing. It might cut off your hands.”
After the pot is weaved, sticks are fitted onto it. Lore estimates it takes about four to five days to make a fish pot but the time frame varies according to who is building it.
Although, fish pots are traditionally made with bamboo. However, some modern day fish pots are made with fish wire.
“I cannot say which is better to build—wire or bamboo. The fish pots are made according to the kind of fish you want to catch. The wire fish pots catch one type of fish and the bamboo one catches another. The bamboo one catches more lobster than the other one. The bamboo makes a lot of moss for the fish to feed on, especially the snappers.”
Once a fish enters the pot, it cannot get out. Such is the purpose of the skillfully woven basket. The pots are brought out to sea for as long as it takes to catch fish and are marked by buoys. Lore says he puts his fish pots further than the reef surrounding village. After the catch is made, the entire pot has to be disassembled to retrieve it.
Lore believes the craft is being lost because the younger generation does not want to work hard to make an honest living. He went further to explain that the younger fishermen tend to use wire fish pots because it takes less time to make.
The STAR spoke to Daniel Medar at the Department of Fisheries to get a better perspective into the dying art of fish pot making.
From the fisheries point of view, young people, because of technology, are not interested in the hard labour, time consuming fish pot lifestyle. Further, there has not been a great effort by the Department of Fisheries to promote fish pots because “that style of fishing is hazardous to the coral reef system and our reefs are very fragile. Fishermen set these pots on the reef, covering a large area, on the reef that would die out when they remove the fish pot.”
Another of Medar’s concerns is ghost fishing. He explained, “It is when a pot is lost. The fisherman may forget where he put the pot or currents would pull the buoy below water and it gets entangled in the coral reefs and the pot will go on fishing. The fish would die in it and other fish would come in because of the smell of the dead fish and they would be trapped and then they would die and the cycle would just keep going on.”
Despite the cons of fish pots it is amazing to watch them being built.