Written by Melissa Wood
April 11, 2013
Some things change while others never do. A lawsuit dug up by an archivist at the Library of Virginia gives an illustration of commercial fishing traps used around 1900. Though technology has certainly changed since then, the dispute is over something timeless — a fishing spot.
The lawsuit involves a dispute over fishing weirs in the Potomac River near Hack Creek. Two men entered into partnership over two weirs in 1895. When one of the men died, his widow sought to have the sites divided between them so she could contract the equipment to someone else. She then sued the surviving partner to stop him from interfering with her use of the more profitable spot.
She lost, but the interesting part is that the archives of the lawsuit include descriptions and illustrations of fishing techniques used back then, such as how fishermen claimed their spots by "bushing a stand":
"When an individual chose a site for his weir, he installed a pole at the spot and attached a green bush to the top of it to indicate that he intended to occupy that particular location. After 'bushing a stand,' custom demanded that other fishermen place their traps no closer than roughly 1,200 yards."
The article, "Don't Bush My Stand" also includes illustrations of fish traps, a diagram of a fish trap with a glossary, and a plat of fish trap locations.
It doesn't mention what fish they were trying to catch. Could it have been American shad? In the same family as anchovy, menhaden and sardines, American shad were once the "East Coast's most abundant and economically important fish, according to an article on restoration efforts in the Potomac. I don't know much about this fishery, so I'd be glad if anyone has any knowledge and would like to weigh in. Apparently, it was worth fighting for.
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