Indigenous systems of salmon fisheries and management offer lessons for resilience

A recent review of Indigenous systems of fisheries management—co-authored by members of the Salmon Watersheds Lab alongside Indigenous leaders and conservation scientists—argues that a return to the use of these technologies, harvest strategies and governance systems may hold hope for restoring the resilience of declining Pacific Northwest salmon fisheries.

The study explains how, from southeastern Alaska to California, for thousands of years Indigenous Peoples managed their salmon fisheries in close, reciprocal relationships with salmon.

Then, in the mid-19th century, the selective harvest technologies that supported these place-based management systems were, in many places, suppressed, outlawed, or destroyed, and replaced with colonial fishing systems; namely, centrally managed, mixed-stock marine fisheries harvesting salmon from hundreds of populations of often unknown origin and conservation status.

The paper reviews case studies of recent revivals of Indigenous harvest technologies, such as weirs, fish traps, reef nets and dip nets, as examples of what a return to Indigenous systems of management could look like.

One such example is the Koeye weir, near Bella Bella on the Central Coast of British Columbia. The weir, a fence spanning the Koeye River with a central trap for capturing and counting fish, was reconstructed in 2013 to monitor and manage the largest sockeye run in Haíłzaqv (Heiltsuk) territory.

 

The Salmon Watersheds Lab played a key role in assisting Heiltsuk leaders in fisheries management to revive this technology, which is now the cornerstone of the Lab's Koeye Salmon Ecosystem Study. 

Media: The Narwhal, Wild Salmon Center.

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