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Consilient knowledge in fisheries: a case study of three species of wolffish (Anarhichadidae) listed under the Canadian Species at Risk Act

Jennifer Dawe, Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador
David Schneider, Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador


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Three species of wolffish have been listed under Canada’s Species at Risk Act with consequences for commercial fisheries. Because harvester based local ecological knowledge (LEK) and science knowledge differ in goals, spatial and temporal scale, and mode of generalization, the current system struggles with including LEK along with traditional assessments in species at risk (SARA) processes. The differences in LEK and science led us to consider the concept of consilience in the sense of strengthened inductive knowledge via convergence or concordance of evidence from disparate sources. We used three criteria when considering consilience: a general concurrence of data, presence of unexplained inconsistencies, and a degree of complementarity between two disparate sources. Using wolffish in the northern Gulf of St. Lawrence we examined the feasibility of applying these criteria to two disparate sources of information: scientific stock assessments and data from structured fish harvester local ecological knowledge (LEK) interviews. We found that for wolffish there was consistency in observed trends and locations of high wolffish catch rates from both harvester LEK interviews and fishery-independent survey data. There was inconsistency between observed variability in catch sizes in harvester interviews and stock assessment maps. The science and LEK evidence were complementary in that observations took place at different spatial and temporal scales. They were complementary in that LEK was inshore, compared to science data from offshore. The explicit criteria we developed permit use of fishers’ knowledge that, in the past, has often been discounted to zero, often thereby reducing trust by harvesters in the results of species at risk assessments. The concept of consilience shifts the focus from controversy to dialogue in the use of evidence and, so, is important in rebuilding marine fishing communities.

Key words

bycatch; fishery surveys; local ecological knowledge; species at risk; wolffish

Copyright © 2014 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087