New study suggests indigenous practices can help revitalize pacific salmon fisheries

December 09, 2020

PORTLAND, Oregon | December 9, 2020 -- Across the North Pacific, salmon fisheries are struggling with climate variability, declining fish populations, and a lack of sustainable fishing opportunities. According to a study published today in BioScience from a team of Indigenous leaders and conservation scientists, help lies in revitalizing Indigenous fishing practices and learning from Indigenous systems of salmon management.

"Salmon and the communities that depend on them have been pushed to the brink by two centuries of extractive natural resource management," says lead author Dr. Will Atlas, Salmon Watershed Scientist with the Portland-based Wild Salmon Center. "But the tools, practices, and governance systems of Indigenous Peoples maintained healthy salmon runs for millennia before that. Their knowledge is still here."

The paper documents how, for thousands of years, Indigenous communities around the North Pacific maintained sustainable salmon harvests by using in-river and selective fishing tools like weirs, traps, wheels, reef nets and dip nets. Following European contact, these traditional fisheries and governance systems were suppressed, and often outlawed outright, as commercial fishing interests came to dominate fisheries.

"As they're currently built, mixed-stock salmon fisheries are undermining the biodiversity needed for Pacific salmon to thrive," says Dr. Atlas. "Luckily, we have hundreds of examples, going back thousands of years, of better ways to fish. These techniques can deliver better results for all communities."

A key example explored in the study is Indigenous people's focus on terminal fisheries. By targeting salmon runs in river systems--rather than in the ocean, where more vulnerable and healthy stocks intermingle--Indigenous people harvest individual, known salmon runs. Selective fishing tools, like the Heiltsuk Nation's traditional-style fish weir in the Koeye River in British Columbia, also enable in-season monitoring, where fishers can assess a run's health in real time, while releasing non-target species unharmed.

"In my Nation, we use fish wheels, an ancient technology that used to be made out of cedar and natural fibers," says co-author Andrea Reid, a citizen of the Nisga'a Nation and an assistant professor in Indigenous Fisheries at the University of British Columbia's Institute for Oceans and Fisheries. "Today, we use modernized fish wheels to monitor, mark, and study the fish, to understand how they are doing in a rapidly changing world."

Indigenous salmon management knowledge stems from more than respect for a primary food source. For many communities, salmon are at the center of creation stories, ceremonies, family structures, and cultural identity.

"The ancient relationship between Heiltsuk and salmon infiltrates every aspect of Heiltsuk life," says co-author William Housty, a member of the Heiltsuk Nation and Board Chair with the Heiltsuk Integrated Resource Management Department in Bella Bella, British Columbia. "Our modern-day management of salmon is based on the values of respect, reciprocity, and wellbeing."

As colonization severed access to traditional fisheries, Tribes and First Nations have experienced complex, ongoing harms. Restoring Indigenous co-governance to salmon management is a crucial part of the reconciliation process. According to the study's authors, restoring Indigenous governance can also help decentralize salmon management decisions at a time when diverse climate impacts are challenging watersheds like never before.

"In an era of rapid global change, we must explore different salmon management approaches," says co-author Dr. Jonathan Moore, a professor in Biological Sciences at British Columbia's Simon Fraser University. "By reinvigorating Indigenous practices, we can bring time-tested lessons to salmon fisheries and take a positive step toward recognizing the cultural fabric that has woven salmon and humans together for millennia." There's still hope for these fisheries, the authors say, if managers embrace Indigenous communities' focus on terminal fisheries and selective fishing tools, strengthen Indigenous co-governance, and decentralize salmon management decisions with climate resiliency in mind.
-end-
About Wild Salmon Center

The mission of Wild Salmon Center is to promote the conservation and sustainable use of wild salmon ecosystems across the Pacific Rim. Over 25 years of work from California to the Russia Far East, we have worked alongside local partners to protect 3 million acres around salmon stronghold rivers and prioritize 71 of those rivers for wild fish. More at wildsalmoncenter.org.

DIGITAL ASSETS: Captioned photos and imagesare available here: https://drive.google.com/drive/u/0/folders/1vkUXQhEHzUi4yYJIhgvNmnlXBIcgwr8A.

Credits required with publication.

Wild Salmon Center

Related Fisheries Articles from Brightsurf:

Assessing El Niño's impact on fisheries and aquaculture around the world
New report presents the main regional consequences caused by the five types of the climate pattern.

Dissolved oxygen and pH policy leave fisheries at risk
In a Policy Forum, ''Dissolved oxygen and pH criteria leave fisheries at risk'' published in the April 24 issue of the journal Science, Stony Brook University's Dr.

Fisheries management is actually working, global analysis shows
Nearly half of the fish caught worldwide are from stocks that are scientifically monitored and, on average, are increasing in abundance.

Meeting the challenges facing fisheries climate risk insurance
Insurance schemes with the potential to improve the resilience of global fisheries face a host of future challenges, researchers say.

Healthy mangroves help coral reef fisheries under climate stress
Healthy mangroves can help fight the consequences of climate change on coral reef fisheries, according to a University of Queensland-led study.

Study champions inland fisheries as rural nutrition hero
Researchers from MSU and the FAO synthesize new data and assessment methods to show how freshwater fish feed poor rural populations in many areas of the world.

For global fisheries, it's a small world after all
Even though many nations manage their fish stocks as if they were local resources, marine fisheries and fish populations are a single, highly interconnected and globally shared resource, a new study emphasizes.

New study maps how ocean currents connect the world's fisheries
It's a small world after all -- especially when it comes to marine fisheries, with a new study revealing they form a single network, with over $10 billion worth of fish each year being caught in a country other than the one in which it spawned.

Federal subsidies for US commercial fisheries should be rejected
A pending rule change proposed by the US National Marine Fisheries Service would allow the use of public funds to underwrite low-interest loans for the construction of new commercial fishing vessels.

Sustainable fisheries and conservation policy
There are roughly five times as many recreational fishers as commercial fishers throughout the world.

Read More: Fisheries News and Fisheries Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.