Delaware River Seasonal Cycles
by Chesa Wang, Devon Bruzzone,
Junyi Yang and Mariya Lupandina
The Lenni Lenape, who were traditionally inhabitants of present-day Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, practiced fishing methods tied to the natural cycles of both the Delaware River and the surrounding land. The fishing season for the Lenni Lenape followed the seasonal patterns of native fish such as Atlantic Sturgeon, Shewanamekw Shad, and Brook Trout as well as that of plants like trout lily and dogbane. Other aspects of life, such as the celebration of the Shad Festival and the yearly gathering and dispersal of different bands of the Lenni Lenape, were also practiced in tandem to the seasonal fishing cycle.
The Lenni Lenape used several different methods to fish, often combined for effectiveness. This included the use of nets, spears, harpoons, and fish weirs. To create fish weirs, the Lenape constructed stone walls in a V formation within the river. As fish swam downstream, Lenape men would use a large net to direct fish toward the weir. These nets were constructed of dogbane fibers, with squash attached at the top for floatation and rocks attached at the bottom to act as “sinkers”. As the fish swam into the enclosed weir, men would be ready with spears, harpoons, and sometimes bare hands to collect the fish. It is also suspected, but not confirmed, that the Lenape used plants such as horse chestnuts and dogbane to stupefy and confuse fish for easier capture.
The fish species associated with those traditional methods, particularly shad, have also declined largely due to environmental factors like climate change and pollution.
Today, The fishing practices in the Delaware River are largely recreational, and the traditional methods of the Lenni Lenape people have faded over time. The fish species associated with those traditional methods, particularly shad, have also declined largely due to environmental factors like climate change and pollution. The presence of invasive species, such as snakehead, crayfish, and catfish, have also added to the issue. These species clear out the Delaware riverbed by feeding on eggs and juveniles of native species and altering ecosystems necessary for the shad’s survival.
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