An ethnoecological approach to weir fishing: a case study from the Konda river, West Siberia 

Abramov I.V. (Ekaterinburg, Russian Federation)


             page 140153


In this paper, the phenomenon of weir fishing is considered as a way of the populations adaptation to lake and river landscapes of the Konda lowland in West Siberia. Weirs have become one of the most reliable ways of subsistence in the boreal climate, as well as an efficient tool for managing biological resources. Using such devices, fishermen are able to control the migration of fish, thereby predicting the amount of catch. The process of building fish weirs was accompanied by land development, i.e., construction of canals and locks, clearing the bed, straightening waterways, etc. All these actions brought the ecosystem into a more stable and predictable condition. The result was an increase in water body productivity, which, in turn, led to a growth of the local community. The Konda river is characterized by alternating low-water and high-water years, which has a major effect on the number of fish and fishing conditions. In view of this, the development of peripheral water bodies with stable hydro conditions is a strategy reducing the risks of fish shortage in the main stream. In addition, the proximity of sources to the estuary (3040 km in a straight line), characteristic of the tributaries of the Lower Konda, allowed the alternation of resources from different landscape zones and water bodies. Drawing on the census data of 1926, it is demonstrated that Khanty settlements were located not only along the Konda river, but also along small rivers at the outflow of the lake systems, being the best places for community fish weirs. Using satellite imagery and surveys of local fishermen, 111 fishing weir locations on the Lower Konda that have been in use in the past 50 years were established. This was the period of a maximum increase in the use of modernized stationary traps aimed at catching large volumes of fish for subsequent processing in factories. The Konda fish trap design is a segment of the river, blocked on both sides, up to 200 m in length, where fish accumulate. The main fishing period is December January, when the fish leaves the lakes on a massive scale due to the lack of oxygen under the ice and enters the fish traps on the river. The paper identifies a consistent pattern of placing weirs at the source of upstream or flowing lakes within 600 m, which is the most effective position for placing traps. Seasonal fish weirs in tributary junctions and the floodplain of the Konda river ceased to exist in the middle of the 20th century due to timber-rafting and new fishing regulations. Collected ethnographic data (20172018) reveals the irreversible transition of the weir fishing from a subsistence activity to a market-based business. This transition began in the early 20th century and was accompanied by an extensive increase in the number of fish traps as well as a geographical expansion of fishing, which was necessary to meet market demand or, in the Soviet period of planned economy, to achieve the planned target. In the late 20th century, when Soviet production chains collapsed, the villagers had to switch to other work activities and easy-to-use fishing methods. Land development works were also curtailed. In the 2010s, with an increase in the general level of welfare, as well as with the growth of fuel costs and bureaucratic expenses, the number of fish weir sites in the Lower Konda decreased to 1315. Renewal of fish weirs takes place every 56 years only on those rivers where fish can still bring a sizable income.

Key words: Konda river, West Siberia, fish weir, wood stake weir, fish trap, cultural ecology, wetland archaeology, spatial analyses.


DOI: 10.20874/2071-0437-2019-45-2-140-153


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Submitted: 18.03.2019

Accepted: 01.04.2019

Article is published: 28.06.2019


I.V. Abramov

Institute of History and Archaeology of Ural Branch RAS, S. Kovalevskoy st., Ekaterinburg, 620990, Russian Federation