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Fishing is one of the oldest ways by which people have fed themselves and their families. Except for gathering shellfish by hand and spearing fish (Figure 1), primitive trapping is probably the oldest form of fishing.

In early times, flowing water caused by tidal movement and changes in river and lake levels were probably used to trap fish behind rudimentary barriers, often made from sticks and stones. It is likely that early humans found that fish catches could be improved by driving fish into these barriers. They would have found that catches from these barriers decreased over time, as fish became accustomed to them, and would have had to move the traps to fresh areas where more fish could be caught. It would have been hard work to construct new traps, either by moving stones from the old trap or finding new ones. Primitive fishers probably tried making barriers from lighter, more readily available material such as tree branches, brush and vines (Figure 2). This led to the fishers inventing lighter, movable traps made from brush and nets made from vines which they could carry with them when they moved to new areas. They may even have tried bigger, more complicated corral-type fish traps in lakes, rivers and coastal waters.

Either by accident or by inspiration, fishers then found that:

It is from such beginnings that modern traps and pots have developed.

Traps and pots do not seem to have developed in only one part of the world. As fish became an important food source, many types of traps and pots were developed. We will look at some of this variety later in the manual, concentrating on portable traps and pots and giving less detail about corrals and other herding devices.


Traps are simple, passive fishing gear that allow fish to enter and then make it hard for them to escape. This is often achieved by:

Smaller traps are generally fully covered except for the entrance or entrances, while larger traps that extend above the water level are often left open at the top.


People in different parts of the world are not always referring to exactly the same things when they use the words "trap" and "pot". In general, traps are large structures fixed to the shore. Pots are smaller, movable traps, enclosed baskets or boxes that are set from a boat or by hand.

A simple system for the naming of traps and pots was produced by von Brandt in 1959 for FAO and is used in this manual. General types of traps and pots include:

In this manual we will concentrate on how you can make and use the various types of transportable traps and pots, the "basket" type. The making and use of other types will be looked at only very briefly.


Trapping is a passive way to catch fish, shellfish, crustaceans (crabs, prawns, etc.) and cephalopods (octopus, squid, etc.) and is different from active fishing methods such as dredging and trawling. Traps can vary, from simple structures such as rock corrals able to hold various fish species passing by, to highly specialized equipment such as lobster pots.

Simple trapping and potting can be carried out from small boats or canoes (Figure 8) or from large vessels. The efficiency of fishing with pots or traps can be improved by the use on board vessels of such equipment as power winches and haulers (Figure 9).

Fish that enter a trap or pot find it difficult to get out and this gives the fisher time to take the fish that are caught.

An advantage of trapping is that it allows some control over the species and sizes of the fish you catch. The trap entrance, or funnel, can be regulated to control the maximum size of fish that enter. The size of the holes, or mesh, in the body of the trap can regulate the minimum size that is retained. To a large extent, the fish species that will be caught depend on the type, model and characteristics of the pot or trap being used.

Figure 1
Primitive hunter spearing fish

Figure 2
Primitive barriers

Figure 3
Traditional pots made from natural materials

Figure 4
The various elements of a box-like trap

Figure 5
The various elements of a beehive pot

Figure 6
The various elements of a slat pot

Figure 7
Large open fixed trap or arrowhead trap

Figure 8
Transporting traps to the fishing ground

Figure 9
Small boat equipped for potting

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