Will a return to historical indigenous fishing practices help recover Pacific Salmon fisheries?


From Wild Fish Conservancy today: A publication released today in BioScience suggests that a return to historical  Indigenous fishing practices and systems of salmon management may be key to revitalizing  struggling Pacific Salmon fisheries across the North Pacific.  

The article, titled Indigenous Systems of Management for Culturally and Ecologically Resilient Pacific Salmon  (Oncorhynchus spp.) Fisheries, is authored by a collection of accomplished Indigenous leaders and  fisheries scientists from the United States and Canada. Wild Fish Conservancy is proud to announce  its own Adrian Tuohy serves as one of the paper’s co-authors.  

In the paper, the authors document how Indigenous communities of the North Pacific sustainably  harvested salmon for thousands of years by fishing in or near rivers with low-impact selective fishing  tools like fish traps, weirs, wheels, reef nets, and dip nets. After the arrival of European settlers,  traditional Indigenous fisheries and governance systems were suppressed, giving way to the mostly  unsustainable mixed-stock commercial fishing practices of today that commonly occur in the ocean  with non-selective tools, such as gill nets.  

“As they’re currently built, mixed-stock salmon fisheries are undermining the biodiversity needed for  Pacific salmon to thrive,” says Dr. Atlas, lead author of the publication and Scientist with the  Portland-based Wild Salmon Center. “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.” 

The publication reviews historical methods of Indigenous salmon fishing and management,  exploring the benefits of terminal fisheries and selective fishing tools able to release by-catch  (non-target species) unharmed. By targeting salmon runs in-river—rather than in the ocean, where  both healthy and threatened stocks intermingle—Indigenous people harvested individual, known  salmon runs as the fish made their homeward migration to natal rivers. Furthermore, Indigenous  groups used low-impact selective fishing tools to selectively target specific salmon runs, similar in  concept to Wild Fish Conservancy’s fish trap in the lower Columbia River which enables bycatch of  threatened and endangered fish to be safely released to reach upriver spawning grounds with nearly  100% survival rates. 

The authors of the publication propose reforming status quo management practices that have failed  to rebuild, or sustainably manage, struggling wild Pacific Salmon populations. According to the  authors, restoring governance, place-based management systems, and methods of in-river selective  harvest grounded in Indigenous knowledge can help revitalize Pacific Salmon fisheries and result in  more equitable fishing opportunities for Indigenous and non-Indigenous coastal fishing  communities alike across the North Pacific.  

“Conventional harvest and hatchery management have mostly failed to maintain or restore wild  salmon and steelhead south of the Aleutians,” says co-author Adrian Tuohy, a Biologist with  the Washington-based non-profit Wild Fish Conservancy. “By returning to place-based salmon  management systems, selective gears, and terminal in-river salmon fisheries historically embraced by  Indigenous communities, we can address many of the primary limiting factors to recovery of wild  salmon and steelhead while benefiting coastal fishing communities across the region.” 

If you want to know more about Wild fish Conservancy’s selective harvest and fish trap research at  wildfishconservancy.org or thefishtrapjournal.org, WFC’s online field journal dedicated to this  research project.  

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