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“Everything revolves around the herring”: the Heiltsuk–herring relationship through time

Alisha M. Gauvreau, Department of Anthropology, University of Victoria, Hakai Institute
Dana Lepofsky, Department of Archaeology, Simon Fraser University, Hakai Institute
Murray Rutherford, School of Resource and Environmental Management, Simon Fraser University
Mike Reid, Fisheries Management, Heiltsuk Integrated Resource Management Department


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Pacific herring (Clupea pallasii) is foundational to many social-ecological systems of the North American coast. The indigenous people of Heiltsuk First Nation on the central coast of British Columbia, Canada have depended on this forage fish for food, social, ceremonial, and economic purposes for millennia. Our research documents social, ecological, and cultural aspects of Heiltsuk First Nation’s relationship with Pacific herring and how this relationship has changed over time. We describe and discuss (1) how Heiltsuk social institutions, local and traditional ecological knowledge, and worldview have informed herring management strategies from pre-contact times until present, and (2) how post-contact changes in state-led herring management and other social and institutional developments in British Columbia have affected the role and transmission of Heiltsuk local knowledge and management of herring. By working in close partnership with Heiltsuk decision-makers, and by conducting interviews with Heiltsuk knowledge holders, we ensured that the data gathered would be relevant, applicable, and valuable to the Heiltsuk community. Our research therefore serves as an example of how state fisheries agencies could improve relationships with indigenous communities by engaging in more collaborative data collection, and our results suggest the potential for joint learning and improvement in fisheries management through collaboration during the design of management and harvesting plans. Our research has relevance at the global level because we identify some of the steps that may be taken to help overcome institutionalized inertia and attain more equitable power relationships for sustainable fisheries management.

Key words

fisheries management; governance; indigenous fisheries; herring; Northwest Coast; traditional ecological knowledge

Copyright © 2017 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