The Importance of Indigenous Knowledge in Fisheries Management

Authored by: Dr. Andrea Reid, Dr. Zach Penney, and Patrick Cooney

Creating a confluence between Indigenous Knowledge and Western Science is critical to developing a sustainable path towards addressing the many ecological and fisheries crises we face today.

The confluence of rivers in a mosaic landscape with salmon. (Linda Gass)

Recently, the Washington – British Columbia Chapter of the American Fisheries Society held their annual conference.  The plenary speakers for the conference, Dr. Andrea Reid and Dr. Zach Penney, provided insightful presentations about the history and role of Indigenous Knowledge in culture, stewardship, and fisheries science.

Their personal backgrounds, knowledge, educations, and experiences provide the necessary catalyst to create the confluence of Indigenous Knowledge and Western Science to address the complicated issues that threaten our shared aquatic ecosystems.

Take a moment to enjoy their insightful words and recordings of their presentations.

Simiinekem: Perspectives on the Confluence of Western and Indigenous Science in Fisheries

Dr. Zach Penney
Fisheries Science Department Manager, Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, Portland, Oregon, United States.
Simiinekem: Perspectives on the Confluence of Western and Indigenous Science in Fisheries. (Link)

I think we are asking too much of salmon.  The salmon are telling us this.  For each salmon there is no other river or alternative water to find.

For tribes, survival is about the constant adaptation of the changing needs of our own society and culture as a dynamic system.  It has evolved through periods of multiple pandemics, armed conflicts, attempted cultural determinations, litigation, and destruction of salmon runs.  Hopefully, we are now entering a new era of partnership and collaboration where there is a confluence of Indigenous and Western sciences to bring us forward together.

For example, wealth and value can be measured in many ways, and this can be seen in differing thoughts and philosophies of recreational fishing.

When you are fishing, it is not always about the value of a hero shot for social media or the economic value a salmon offers.

Rather, when fishing, there is a sense of place, where Tribes can provide insight into their relationship to the land.  Because the place includes the people and a reverence for fish.

When you tie your own fly, or you are by yourself in a riffle, there is an experience that brings a sense of value and a relationship to the activity.

When you catch that fish, there is an exchange of something between you and that animal that cannot be measured by Western Science.

The exchange and value is where the confluence of Indigenous Knowledge and Western Science can have strength.

The opportunity and challenge to us going forward is whether many people of diverse insights and knowledge can work together, like two rivers coming together at a confluence, to socially and economically innovate for the salmon.

Moving towards co-existence of Indigenous and Western science in modern fisheries.

Dr. Andrea Reid
Assistant Professor, Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Moving towards co-existence of Indigenous and Western science in modern fisheries. (Link)

I offer you today an invitation to interrogate your own positionality and your own purpose in your fisheries research and management.  To identify pathways for us all to build towards consensus where we can come to learn from one another and embrace multiple ways of knowing in our work as fisheries scientists and professionals. 

The scale and scope of current ecological and fisheries crises demand that we do things differently today.  The dominant paradigm that has relegated fish into resources…that they can be manipulated for strictly economic gain…is clearly not working.  We have managed fisheries through this commodified, rather than relational, lens.

Fish are far more than just food.  They are critically linked to identity, culture, ceremony, practice, law, language, and story.  They underpin coupled social-ecological systems, that for much of the history of contemporary fisheries management, we have managed with predominantly ecological metrics, tools, and policies, alone. 

It shouldn’t feel revolutionary to say that fish and people are inextricably linked, that fisheries management is deeply social and ecological, or that we could do things better if we were to welcome fisheries knowledge insights and practices from all those who coexist in the landscape in which the fisheries sit.

Co-management offers us one way of working together, but how is it departing from the status quo?  Is it really doing things any differently if co-management regimes ascribe to strictly Western scientific approaches and ask Indigenous partners to leave their world views and bodies of knowledge, belief, and practice at the door if they want a seat at the decision making table?

We have limited financial resources to tend to current ecological and fisheries crises as well as limited time.  We very much need to confront these challenges to learn from the best of our collective abilities and understandings, and do so now, especially given the reality that we inhabit these shared landscapes.  And that what we do up or downstream from one another has impacts on the fish who move rather seamlessly between the territories of the people, who are guardians, as well as the habitats on which they depend.

My questions are:

  • How can we make space for multiple ways of knowing and equitable coexistence in our shared landscapes? 
  • How will we treat Indigenous Knowledge in the work that lies ahead of us?

If we don’t see value in the knowledge, or if we think that the hard work is done, simply by reading these words and listening to a presentation, then the results are surely going to be ephemeral. 

But, if we treat Indigenous Knowledge systems with respect, as the valuable entities that they are, and we recognize that the path forward will be an increasingly difficult one, then the results of this confluence of Indigenous Knowledge and Western Science are going to be far more sustaining.


Take a moment to learn more about the history of fisheries in Canada and Indigenous fishing rights from Dr. Andrea Reid and Dr. Rowshyra Castañeda.

Two-eyed seeing” is a Mi’kmaw concept of learning to see from one eye with the strengths of Indigenous knowledges and ways of knowing while seeing from the other eye with the strengths of Western knowledges and ways of knowing.  (Graphic Construction: Patrick Cooney with sources)


Presentations provided with permission from presenters. Thank you to Washington – British Columbia Chapter for hosting this incredible Plenary Session.

One Comment Add yours

  1. I like to experience more about your work / techniques in the Amazonas. I am working for & with these Indigenous Peoples. I love to exchange experiences between the different countries & cultures,
    Thank you in advance, Leo

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