Collaborative work with Central Coast First Nations applicable elsewhere in BC and the world


For thousands of years, First Nations along British Columbia’s central coast have told stories about the abundance of marine life, including Dungeness crab and yelloweye rockfish—two culturally and ecologically important marine species.

But today, both species are in such decline there’s not enough for Indigenous peoples to meet their food and ceremonial needs. Recently, Indigenous fishers shared information with researchers to fill in the data gaps.

“Traditional and local ecological knowledge are increasingly recognized for their capacity to complement ecological data and improve fisheries management,” says University of Victoria conservation scientist Natalie Ban (environmental studies). “Indigenous peoples’ cultures, practices and beliefs represent a lifetime of observations that complement a scientific framework.”

Two culturally and ecologically important species

The Central Coast Indigenous Resource Alliance (Wuikinuxv, Nuxalk, Kitasoo/Xai’xais, Heiltsuk nations) partnered with Ban on two recent publications about the status of Dungeness crab and yelloweye rockfish. By interviewing Indigenous fishers, Ban and collaborators were able to fill in data gaps for the Dungeness crab (where no data existed in the study region) and yelloweye rockfish (where no data existed prior to 2003).

“We uncovered severe reductions in Dungeness crab catch rates and our modelling work showed that an estimated eight of nine sites do not have enough crabs for Indigenous fishers to meet their families’ needs,” says Alejandro Frid, science coordinator of the Central Coast Indigenous Resource Alliance, an adjunct professor at UVic and co-author in both studies.

“Yelloweye rockfish are about half the size they used to be,” says Ban, “which means many are being caught without having a chance to reproduce.”

Over thousands of years, coastal BC First Nations have developed complex management strategies suited to species within their territories. These strategies are passed from one generation to the next through stories, ceremonies, family lineages, norms and harvesting practices.

“Despite the impacts of industrialization and colonization,” says Ban, “communities still harvest local ocean resources for food and cultural well-being, and try to influence their management.”

Ban hopes that considering both Indigenous knowledge and science—and integrating them when appropriate—will address the modern fishery problem and provide a collaborative approach applicable to BC and elsewhere in the world.

An outcome of Ban’s collaborative work with Central Coast First Nations has been a recently formed working group with the Fisheries and Oceans Canada to improve the evidence-based management of Dungeness crab.

Funding was provided for the research projects by the Marine Environmental Observation Prediction and Response Network, SSHRC, the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council, the National Geographic, Tides Canada Foundation and the BC Marine Planning Fund.

The two papers are available online:

This story was written by Anne MacLaurin, a communications officer at the University of Victoria. It was first published on December 14, 2017, on University of Victoria’s website. The research is supported by a SSHRC Insight Grant.