The tidal fish traps at Noordkapperhoek, in Stillbaai, are of the best preserved and are an example of the oldest working technology in Southern Africa.
These types of tidal fish traps occur in various locations along the Western Cape coast line. In Stillbaai they are found some 2km from Still Bay harbour. These traps, which have been afforded national monument status, have until recently, been maintained and used by interested locals.
Stone Age Fishing
Eyewitness accounts report how Khoi built, maintained and used tidal fish traps in the 1600’s. Archaeologists calculate that the oldest remaining traps are as old as 3000 years, their evolution stretching back even further. It appears from evidence recovered at Blombos Cave that fish has been part of man’s diet for a very long time – at least more than 70 000 years. One of the easiest ways of harvesting fish was gathering those stranded in natural tidal pools after the turn of the tide. Enhancing the fish-trapping properties of tidal pools by a few well-placed stones was the next logical step, followed eventually by man-made pools.
Tidal fish traps consist of low walls of boulders and pebbles constructed across gullies in the inter-tidal zone. Tidal traps operate on the principle that at spring high tide, fish swim over the walls to feed. As the water recedes with the turn of the tide, the fish get trapped in the enclosure. This is especially the case during new moon, when it is dark and the fish cannot see that they are becoming trapped. It is then an easy matter to remove the fish from the almost dry trap. Traps are only efficient if stones are packed in a certain way and re-packing of the walls is necessary after damage by high seas.
Until recently, Still Bay fishermen and farmers maintained the walls of the Noordkapperheok tidal fish traps (23 in all) to preserve them against the destructive action of the waves. Each trap has its own folk name, such as Elmboog (Elbow) and Krom Knie (Crooked knee).
The declaration of this area as a Marine Protected Area, with the fish traps being declared as a Restricted Zone, in 2008 has brought the maintenance and use of this ancient technology to an end.
It is believed that it is of the utmost importance that a solution is found that will allow these fish traps at Noordkapperhoek to continue to be preserved as an example of the oldest working technology in Southern Africa.
Description taken from: Hessequa Society for Archaeology