Getting Weir(d)

A little over a year ago, at the Slow Fish conference in New Orleans, we ran into Chatham weir fishermen Shannon and Ernie Eldredge and Russell Kingman. (Yes, sometimes you have to travel far to find your people close to home!) Ever since then, we’ve been ruminating on this fisher family’s story and its struggle to keep a traditional, sustainable fishery alive.

We’re currently seeking funding for this independent project, but are grateful that for now, we’re close enough to make it for sunrise fishing sessions on Nantucket Sound. Since late April, we’ve been gathering test footage and witnessing the incredibly hard work, low pay, and spiritual reward of fishing on the weir.

THE WEIR (working title) will be a verité exploration of a fishing, sustainability, and identity as a traditional fishery is passed from one generation to the next at a time of environmental and social change.

Since 1953, the Eldredge family has operated a fishing weir in Chatham, MA. Now one of the only active weirs on the United States East Coast, this ancient fishing method is essentially an underwater trap that attracts all manner of fish into a nearly million square-foot area. The fish can escape the same way they entered, but rarely do so—living in schools in the weir until the fishermen scoop them up in nets.

Using a minimum of fossil fuels, the fishermen only take what they can sell each day, avoiding bycatch of unwanted or undersized fish and making use of underutilized species like scup and dogfish. Rising sea temperatures and predatory seals are taking a toll on the catch, however. From the rawness of an April dawn to a pleasant sunny day in June, viewers are sure to share the fishermen’s emotions of hope and pride, disappointment and satisfaction, regret and frustration as the weirs are placed, the nets are set, and the catch comes in—or doesn’t.