Fish Trap

Catching Barramundi

Fishtrap diagram
A Fishtrap
The diagram shows barramundi being guided to the mouth of the fishtrap by the fences. Diagram by Questacon.

Some groups of Indigenous Australians use traditional fishtraps to catch fish from rivers or creeks. Traps can be made of branches, grass or vines.

Along with the development of the traps, Burarra people also developed the skills and knowledge required to to use them most effectively. Their detailed knowledge of their environment helped them to place the traps in the best place and at the right time of year.

The wet season, when the creeks and billabongs fill with water, is the time to set fishtraps. Early in the wet season the fish swim upstream to breed while towards the end of the season they move downstream to spend the dry season in the larger rivers.

A trap like the one pictured is placed in the water with a fence made of sticks and grass built around it. The only hole in the fence leads into the mouth of the fishtrap which faces the direction the fish are likely to come from. A woven funnel (sitting inside the mouth of the trap) guides fish into the trap, and prevents them from swimming out again. The clever design ensures that only adult fish are caught. Smaller fish can escape though the woven trap, or may even swim back through the funnel entrance. Fish can live in a trap for up to two months.

By untying the end of the trap, fish can be removed without the trap being destroyed. This sustainable design means that the trap can be used many times.

Today, the Burarra people use other ways to catch fish, including spearing, cast nets and fishing lines.

While the ancient fishtrap technology is no longer used, Burarra people are maintaining the skills and knowledge by making traps for sale.