The following is the established format for referencing this article:Gavenus, E. R., R. Beveridge, and T. Satterfield. 2023. Restorative diets: a methodological exploration comparing historical and contemporary salmon harvest rates. Ecology and Society 28(2):29.
Along the coast of what has come to be known as British Columbia, First Nations face persistent challenges related to the state of the fisheries on which they depend. Fisheries management strategies imposed by the colonial-through-to-federal governance regimes have been implicated in contributing to the challenges, and are rejected by many coastal First Nations who are reasserting governance authority over their fisheries. In particular, the current management approach continues to set ceilings on First Nations’ harvest rates (e.g., food, social, and ceremonial allocation). Too often the evidence used to determine such ceilings reflects diets and fishing practices deeply disrupted by social-ecological change, including, but not limited to, colonialism and climate change. Through this paper we use the example of salmon to propose harvest rates more consistent with less disrupted diets, what we refer to as restorative diets. Methodologically, we use empirical records on historical diets as a basis for envisioning what restorative diets might look like and for considering the magnitude of the difference between harvest rates consistent with such diets compared to contemporary diets. We do so by developing a model of restorative harvest rates in reference to caloric needs, the proportion of diets historically contributed by salmon, and the amount of salmon harvested per calorie, which we parameterize using existing empirical records. These methods yield coast-wide restorative harvest rates that range from 68 to 235 kg of salmon per person per year. Such estimates are three to 14 times higher than contemporary rates. We offer the methodology and findings presented here as both catalyst and guidance for further investigations of the conditions (ecological, social, and political) necessary to support the efforts of coastal First Nations, and Indigenous Peoples globally, to restore their fisheries, diets, and food systems.
Along the coast of what has come to be known as British Columbia, First Nations face persistent challenges related to the legal, regulatory, and environmental state of the fisheries on which they depend. Challenges to food security, or simply having access to enough food to support an active, full life, are exacerbated by dramatic declines in access to marine foods, including salmon (Oncorhynchus spp.; Thompson et al. 2020, Atlas et al. 2021, Steel et al. 2021, M. Reid et al. 2022). Multiple and complex social-ecological drivers are responsible, including global-scale ecological shifts (Rall and LaFortune 2020) and ongoing federal fisheries management strategies (Atlas et al. 2021, M. Reid et al. 2022). Potential interactions between these drivers raise concerns that ecological shifts are exacerbating the disruptions to fisheries access perpetuated by federal management in general and for First Nations in particular (Thompson et al. 2020). Concurrently, there are concerns that management strategies are exacerbating declines in fish populations (Atlas et al. 2021, M. Reid et al. 2022) and limiting the options available for coastal First Nations—Indigenous peoples along the coastline of the Northeast Pacific—to adapt to or mitigate such changes (Whitney et al. 2020). In response, coastal First Nations are asserting governance authority over their fisheries and the lands and waters upon which they depend (Turner et al. 2013, Klain et al. 2014, von der Porten et al. 2016, von der Porten et al. 2019, Beveridge et al. 2020, M. Reid et al. 2022). This assertion takes various forms, such as First Nation–determined fisheries closures (First Nation Panel on Fisheries 2004, Frid et al. 2016); reconciliation agreements, which aim to change the principles that guide fisheries management (e.g., Fisheries Resources Reconciliation Agreement 2021); local monitoring of coastal activities (e.g., Coastal Guardian Watchmen programs; Thompson et al. 2020), formalizing traditional forms of management (Atlas et al. 2017, Beveridge et al. 2020); and direct and legal action (Jones et al. 2017). Globally, other Indigenous Peoples are taking similar actions to assert governance authority and to push back against disruptions to fisheries, food access, and diets that have been perpetuated by strategies based in colonial governance principles (Jackson 2013, Jentoft and Chuenpagdee 2015, McMillan and Prosper 2016, Langdon 2021).
Yet in Canada the Crown continues to presume jurisdiction and authority over coastal fisheries (Christie 2005, Silver et al. 2022). The Crown must account for and uphold the constitutional rights of First Nations in its governance decisions (R. v. Sparrow 1990). The Crown often demands evidence and justification when the governance goals and management practices of coastal First Nations seemingly compromise the Crown’s mandate to promote economic opportunities within fisheries (Cohen 2012, Atlas et al. 2022). In particular, coastal First Nations are often asked to provide evidence of need when they assert management strategies and goals responsive to the persistent scarcity of fish (Winbourne 1990, Cohen 2012). Too often, the expected evidence of need reflects an already degraded contemporary baseline or relies heavily on contemporary rates of use (Ahousaht Indian Band and Nation v. Canada [Attorney General] 2009, Squamish Indian Band v. Canada [Fisheries and Oceans] 2019). When used as a primary indicator of how much fish is reasonable to allocate for First Nations harvesting, statements or measures of need may disproportionately “normalize” tremendous losses and interruptions already caused by myriad forces, from the Crown-imposed governance regime through to the criminalization of native fisheries so central to colonialism itself (Newell 1993, Harris 2001, 2008, Schreiber 2008, Deur et al. 2013, Silver et al. 2022).
Such losses and interruptions contribute to disrupted diets of coastal First Nations (Damman et al. 2008, Whyte 2018). Using disrupted diets and related disrupted harvest rates as a basis for determining the amount of marine foods that ought to be available to coastal First Nations can exert further downward pressure on allocated amounts and access for coastal First Nations. We find this approach inconsistent with legal decisions that have specified the scope of constitutionally-protected Aboriginal rights (R. v. Sparrow 1990). Instead, in this paper we seek to investigate harvest rates consistent with diets of coastal First Nations in British Columbia that are less disrupted by colonial-through-to-federal fisheries management. We use the phrase restorative diets to describe such diets, and restorative harvest rates to describe harvest rates consistent with a restorative diet. Conceptually, restorative diets reflect diets that would be accessible to coastal First Nations under the interdependent conditions of renewed Indigenous governance systems and restored ecological systems. They do not include food use beyond individual diets (e.g., trade, feasting, or ceremony), so cannot be interpreted as an upper limit to access or allocation. Methodologically, we use historical, precolonial diets as a basis for envisioning what restorative diets might look like and what levels of harvest would be consistent with such a diet. We use the example of salmon as both a demonstration and empirically supported analysis to specifically compare restorative harvest rates for salmon to contemporary harvest and allocation rates. Our aim is to shed light on the revealed gap between disrupted and restorative diets, and to provide methods to examine this as might be applied to other marine foods.
PROBLEM CONTEXT, THEORY, AND METHODOLOGICAL APPROACH
This paper works from the presupposition that contemporary rates of salmon harvest by coastal First Nations and the relative contribution of salmon to contemporary diets have been influenced by fisheries management strategies originally imposed by the Crown and continued thereafter under federal governance (Armstrong and William 2015, M. Reid et al. 2022). Colonial policies of dispossession and forced assimilation have already been implicated in disrupting the diets and food practices of Indigenous Peoples (Daschuk 2013, Norgaard 2019), including those of coastal First Nations (Whyte 2018). Harris (2001) has specifically detailed how colonial assertions of fisheries authority interrupted longstanding practices and access to marine foods for coastal First Nations. In River of Salmon Peoples, Darwin Douglas (Musqueam) describes how the “...relationship to the salmon and to the river is continuously trying to be severed by the government, still” (2015:47). Across the region, it is repeatedly reported that the amount of salmon available under the Crown’s governance regime is not acceptable and is insufficient to meet even the most basic dietary requirements (Cohen 2012, Armstrong and William 2015, Steel et al. 2021, A. J. Reid et al. 2022). Here, we engage with two aspects of fisheries governance that contribute to low First Nation harvest rates: the proportion of salmon returns that are allocated to First Nations for food, social, and ceremonial purposes (FSC) under Crown-imposed policies; and the abundance (or scarcity) of salmon returning to spawning grounds. Federal fisheries management strategies and the interruption of Indigenous fisheries governance have been implicated in both (Atlas et al. 2021).
Starting with British Columbia’s adoption of the Fisheries Act in 1878, the Crown’s approach to fisheries governance was largely motivated by appeals from canneries to curtail salmon harvest by First Nations (Newell 1993, Harris 2001, 2008). Criminalization of particular Indigenous fishing practices followed, including weirs and fish traps (Harris 2001). These efficient and selective technologies are used by First Nations to harvest high volumes of fish in terminal fisheries, and also facilitate highly specific monitoring of returning salmon (Brown and Brown 2009, Dale and Natcher 2015, Atlas et al. 2017). The Crown also employed the designation of an Indigenous “food fishery,” a constructed classification removed from Indigenous realities, which legal interpretations of the “Aboriginal right to fish” further entrenched (Harris 2001, Harris and Millerd 2010). In R. v. Gladstone (1996), the majority decision made the distinction that Indigenous food fisheries are “internally limited,” suggesting that food, social, and ceremonial “needs” provide a ceiling on the amount of fish that First Nations ought to, by right, have priority access to. For coastal First Nations with whom the Crown has no treaty agreement, that interpretation persists today within Aboriginal Fisheries Strategies (AFS). AFS delineate how, when, and where First Nations are permitted to harvest salmon for FSC uses (Winbourne 1990, Squamish Indian Band v. Canada [Fisheries and Oceans] 2019). The AFS also specify amounts of fish allocated to First Nations for FSC purposes. Through this political mechanism, the federal government directly determines salmon harvest rates for First Nations (and others). The process for negotiating and challenging these restrictions are fraught, with some First Nations consistently including letters of duress and others challenging the process through the courts (Squamish Indian Band v. Canada [Fisheries and Oceans] 2019).
Although the factors influencing salmon returns are multiple and complex, the imposition of federal management priorities have sidelined Indigenous fisheries governance and practices that promote healthy salmon returns along the coast (Atlas et al. 2017, Carothers et al. 2021, M. Reid et al. 2022). With regard to salmon, ongoing federal strategies of mixed-stock fisheries, single-species management, and sidestepping decisions to reduce pressure from commercial and recreational fisheries have all been implicated in declining fish populations (Whitney et al. 2020, Atlas et al. 2021, M. Reid et al. 2022). These pressures are expected to mount as challenges associated with climate change escalate (Cheung and Frölicher 2020). In contrast, oral histories and archaeological data reflect the longstanding resilience of human-salmon systems in this area facilitated by strong social institutions (Brown and Brown 2009, Campbell and Butler 2010). Even in the current context of salmon declines and interrupted fishing and dietary practices, coastal First Nations have expressed governance principles and harvest goals aligned with sustaining and restoring salmon systems (Klain et al. 2014, Adams et al. 2021, M. Reid et al. 2022), at times deciding to close Indigenous harvesting altogether or to harvest at reduced rates on the basis of principles of conservation and co-existence (First Nation Panel on Fisheries 2004).
Theoretical motivations, governing salmon
Coastal First Nations are continuing to assert authority over the governance of their fisheries, and the lands and waters upon which they rely (Jones et al. 2017, Chi Lee et al. 2019, von der Porten et al. 2019, Beveridge et al. 2020). The institutions, protocols, and practices of Indigenous food systems, including fisheries, often relate to broader governance systems (Salmón 2000, 2012, Whyte 2018). Mike Reid (Heiltsuk) and colleagues from the Central Coast First Nations insist, “These [marine] species are also foundational to our stories, legal systems, social structures and economies...” (M. Reid et al. 2022:1058). For many Indigenous people in this region, salmon is both the wealth of nations and the currency of decision making, among other critically important roles. Umeek/E. Richard Atleo (Nuu-cha-nulth; 2004) and Dawn Morrison (Secwepemc; 2020) refer to the central role of salmon across coastal First Nation governance institutions (e.g., feasting and potlatching), and Andrea Reid (Nisga’a) and colleagues share that salmon shape the Nisga’a _ayuukhl (code of law) and adaawak (oral histories), and are central to yukw (feasts; A. Reid et al. 2022:720). In this sense, Indigenous governance both supports and is supported by Indigenous food systems, and thus both are key to cultural revitalization (Deur et al. 2013, Daigle 2019, Settee and Shukla 2020). Despite related changes and movements underway, disrupted contemporary diets and rates of salmon harvest continue to be used as an acceptable baseline (Marushka et al. 2019), as an indicator of need (Squamish Indian Band v. Canada [Fisheries and Oceans] 2019), or as a constant potentially affected by ecological change (Weatherdon et al. 2016). Continuing to rely upon contemporary diets in these ways may overlook disruptions caused by federal management and dismiss the potential for restoring diets as an element of governance authority reassertion by coastal First Nations.
Using historical (in this case precolonial) baselines offers one approach for highlighting, instead of overlooking, such disruptions (Turner et al. 2008). For example, within the field of toxicology and risk assessments, researchers working with the Tribes of the Columbia River Basin have demonstrated the considerable difference between using average, contemporary rates of salmon consumption to set standards for environmental contaminants versus a rate of less-suppressed salmon consumption (Donatuto and Harper 2008, Harper and Walker 2015). However, there exist, to our understanding, limited efforts within fisheries management to account for the extent to which contemporary salmon use reflects diets already disrupted through decades of federally-mandated management. Instead, these contemporary rates are taken as indicative of how much salmon ought to be available to coastal First Nations for food, social, and ceremonial purposes (Ahousaht Indian Band and Nation v. Canada [Attorney General] 2009, Squamish Indian Band v. Canada [Fisheries and Oceans] 2019). Using contemporary rates can lead to expectations and management decisions based on a degraded system only, a problem akin to Daniel Pauly’s concept of “shifting baselines” (2019). The normalization of low rates of harvest is thereby achieved by exerting downward pressure on harvest rates across time, creating the expectation of a degraded lower baseline, particularly as intergenerational memories of abundance erode (Brown and Brown 2009, Armstrong and William 2015).
The counterpoint argument, our specified methodology below, addresses the difference between salmon harvest rates associated with contemporary, disrupted diets of coastal First Nations and a harvest rate consistent with a restorative diet. Our goal is to seek better consideration of what a less degraded, more restorative marine diet might be, and how such investigations might inform changing fisheries governance or reconciliation for historical harms.
Positionality of authors
As three settler researchers, we gratefully find ourselves working to support coastal First Nations as they seek to develop their own goals for fisheries governance. This work initially emerged through conversations with First Nations knowledge holders and the staff of Indigenous Stewardship Departments on British Columbia’s Central Coast, including Heiltsuk, Kitasoo Xai’xais, Nuxalk, and Wuikinuxv Nation staff with the Central Coast Area Implementation Committee. They are convened by their organization: the Central Coast Indigenous Resource Alliance (https://www.ccira.ca), where members of our authorship team live and work with a decade of experience and relationships collaborating with Nations in the region (e.g., Beveridge et al. 2020, 2021). Nation Stewardship staff expressed an interest in our team conducting this work, and continued to inform its development as we conducted the research. It should be noted that much of this work was initiated during the COVID-19 pandemic, which led us to use existing and publicly available data from a wide geographic scope (as opposed to a local scope via community-based and interview-driven work) to develop the methodology for evaluating the potential gap between contemporary and restorative diets.
This work also reflects multiple histories and positions of each author: EG brings research experience and methods from the field of public health in particular to questions of fishing and food security. A settler of European descent, EG learned to love salmon and all they share with us through commercial fishing on waters of the Dena’ina and Alutiiq/Sugpiaq peoples. RB lives and works in Nuxalk territory and seeks to uphold her relational responsibility to serve coastal First Nations through her work. She has ongoing conversations with Central Coast First Nation partners about how health and food security research might support marine conservation and self-governance objectives. TS is the senior academic lead on this work, grateful for the insights of her co-authors and collaborators, and has previously worked on a similar question for the ’Namgis Nation (Satterfield et al. 2017), and on problems of meaning and measurement as they apply to assessment methods.
Exploring any difference between restorative and disrupted First Nations’ salmon harvest rates involved three key steps: (1) identifying estimates of historical and contemporary First Nations’ salmon use across publicly available sources, (2) estimating a salmon harvest rate consistent with restorative diets, and (3) comparing estimates of contemporary versus restorative harvest rates. We accept that any difference between estimates of disrupted versus restorative diets need be speculative in this early-stage effort.
Identifying estimates of First Nations’ salmon use in publicly available sources
We reviewed literature across multiple disciplines to identify estimates of historical and contemporary First Nations’ salmon use, where historical refers to estimates of precolonial use. Sources included academic publications, reports, court proceedings and decisions, and public testimony. Geographically, we considered estimates from within the “Salmon Nation,” from Northern California to the North Slope of Alaska (Tushingham et al. 2021, Salmon Nation 2022; Appendix 1).
Estimating restorative salmon harvest rates
We estimated rates of salmon harvest consistent with restorative diets as a function of three variables (see Equation 1): (1) daily calories required per person, (2) the proportion of calories historically contributed by salmon, and (3) the mass of salmon harvested per calorie. This approach follows the general logic used by Hewes (1973) and Fediuk and Thom (2008) in linking harvest rates to the energy requirements of people. As with Hewes (1973), we aimed to base the proportion of calories contributed by salmon on the precolonial diets and practices of coastal First Nations. As with Harper and Walker (2015), we consulted multiple and diverse lines of evidence, each of which carries its own limitations and associated uncertainties (specified below). Variability also exists around the value each parameter is likely to take because of real and expected heterogeneity. For example, people have varying energy requirements across life stages and activity levels (Health Canada 2006); in addition, the proportion of a person’s diet contributed by salmon varies along the coast, across seasons and years, and by governance and lineage (e.g., clan) access rights (Moss 2012). Even the conversion of harvested salmon to calories can vary by species of salmon, preparation, and proportion eaten (Health Canada 2021). To account for how these multiple sources of expected variability affect estimates of restorative diets, we used R version 4.0.0 (2020-04-24) to construct a distribution of likely restorative harvest rates by repeatedly, randomly sampling a value for each variable from distributions informed by literature sources (Appendix 2 and R-script). The variables, their distributions, and informing sources are summarized in Table 1 and described in subsections below.
- The values for Daily Calories Required per Person (median = 2181, interquartile range [IQR] = 1816–2644) were sampled from a lognormal distribution (µ* = 2188, ó* = 1.32) defined by the Estimated Energy Requirement equations from Health Canada (2006), based on contemporary age- and gender-distributions (Statistics Canada 2021) along with expected activity levels (Macridis et al. 2020).
- The values for the Percent of Daily Calories from Salmon (median = 25%, IQR = 11%–36%) represent the primary means for anchoring the modeled estimate in precolonial diets. They were sampled from a distribution of the products of the likely proportion of diets contributed by fished resources (Beta: á = 31, ß = 26 [Murdock 1967; Appendix 3]), proportion of fished resources composed of finfish (uniform: min = 0.67, max = 0.85 [Dalsgaard et al. 1998, Satterfield et al. 2015]), and proportion of finfish calories contributed by salmon (Beta: á = 0.72, ß = 0.52 [Crapo et al. 2004, McKechnie and Moss 2016, Health Canada 2021, Hillis et al. 2022]; Appendix 4), each of which was defined by using existing literature to reflect, to the extent possible, dietary practices of coastal First Nations preceding Crown-imposed fisheries governance.
- Finally, to arrive at an estimated harvest rate to meet dietary uses, we used a distribution of the Grams of Harvested Salmon per Calorie. This distribution reflects two underlying variables: the grams of salmon eaten per calorie (lognormal: µ* = 0.65, ó* = 1.27 [Health Canada 2021; Appendix 5]) and the grams of salmon harvested per gram eaten (lognormal: µ* = 1.23, ó* = 1.12 [Crapo et al. 2004]).
Likely rates of salmon harvest needed to support a restorative diet for coastal First Nations were estimated as a function of the variables defined above using the following equation:
We used repeated sampling (n = 10,000) from the distributions described above to populate Equation 1, and used the interquartile range (central 50% of modeled values) of the resulting distribution to arrive at a range for the rate of salmon harvest consistent with restorative diets for coastal First Nations, described in the units of kilograms of salmon harvested per person per year. Modeling the range in this way allows us to account for the uncertainty inherent in estimating a rate of salmon harvest anchored in deep time, across a large geographic area.
As described above, the range of likely values for each of the variables reflects certain assumptions and uncertainties. We used a linear regression to identify the effect variance of each parameter has on the estimated rate of harvest, using the values generated through the repeated model runs. We also explored how each variable contributes to the breadth of the estimated range by comparing the IQR of values resulting from three revised ranges of likely harvest rates, each with one of the variables held constant at its median value, to the IQR in which all three variables were randomly sampled (Appendix 6). Finally, we selected model runs from across the IQR and traced the values for each parameter to construct numeric profiles of who might fall at different points along the IQR (Appendix 7). The numeric profiles were matched with archetypes (e.g., a hunter) to illustrate how the expected range of restorative diets might be reflected on the ground.
We performed four checks on the reasonableness of the modeled rate of harvest: (1) The restorative diets, associated harvest rates, and relative comparisons to contemporary diets, as well as our methodological approach, were scrutinized by the aforementioned experts and knowledge holders. (2) Six estimates of historical, heritage, or preferred rates of salmon use were identified in the available literature and converted to comparable units to check the consistency of our restorative harvest rates. The resulting comparison is presented in Figure 1, and further details about the sources and unit conversions are available in Appendix 8. (3) The higher end of the restorative harvest rates was checked against the human biological capacities to benefit from salmon (e.g., consumption rates associated with protein toxicity). Finally, (4) the rate of harvest was compared to contemporary salmon returns as an approximate check on the ecological capacity of local systems to support restoring diets (see Appendix 8 for more detailed information for each check).
Comparing disrupted and restorative First Nations’ rates of salmon harvest
Because the estimates of restorative diet and harvest rates are particular to the coast of British Columbia, evidence of contemporary rates that most closely align with this geographic scope were prioritized for use in our quantitative comparisons. Estimates from other parts of Salmon Nation (e.g., Alaska: Polissar and Neradilek 2019) or from specific First Nations (e.g., Nuxalk First Nation: Kuhnlein et al. 2013) were reserved for more general reflections on the consistency of our findings.
We compared our estimates of restorative salmon harvest rates to three contemporary estimates in the reviewed literature. These studies were included on the basis of their geographic consistency with the current study and their use of distinct information sources: reported FSC catch data (Gunton and Broadbent 2012), average FSC allocation amounts (First Nation Panel on Fisheries 2004), and dietary surveys (Marushka et al. 2019). Each of these information sources has been identified as pertinent evidence for DFO to consider in decisions about the amount of salmon allocated for First Nations’ food, social, and ceremonial salmon harvests (Ahousaht Indian Band and Nation v. Canada [Attorney General] 2009, Squamish Indian Band v. Canada [Fisheries and Oceans] 2019). We found publicly available data on FSC allocations and catches to be scarce and First Nations understandably reluctant to have Nation-specific data published. The two sources identified reference data from 2004 and 2012, respectively, which we have used as reflective of contemporary evidence. Converting the evidence of current use to comparable units again required multiple assumptions with corresponding uncertainty. This process is detailed further in Appendix 9.
Estimating and checking a restorative salmon harvest rate
Working through the methods outlined above, we constructed salmon harvest rates necessary to support restorative diets among coastal First Nations. That range is approximately 68–235 kg of salmon harvested per person per year, or an average of roughly 15–73 salmon harvested per person per year based on the 25% and 75% quartiles of the modeled results depicted in Figure 2 below. The three quantitative checks on reasonableness (comparison with other estimates of historical rates of harvest [Fig. 1 above], safe intake levels of nutrients, and a sustainable exploitation rate of returning salmon [Appendix 8]) support using this range as a basis for demonstrating the magnitude of the gap between harvest rates consistent with restoring diets and current rates of harvest, use, and allocation among coastal First Nations.
The difference between the lower and higher ends of the restorative harvest rates (almost 170 kg, or roughly 55 fish, per person) is considerable. As discussed above, this difference may be a result of real variability in salmon diets, and uncertainty inherent in our approach. All three variables were found to be significant predictors of variance in restorative harvest rates, with the proportion of diets contributed by salmon being the most influential (Appendix 6). Figure 2 includes six hypothetical profiles to illustrate how harvest rates at lower, middle, and higher points of the range can reflect heterogeneity in expected energy requirements across life stages, the proportion of diets contributed by salmon, and other practices such as how much of a harvested fish is eaten. For example, an elder might fall toward the upper end of the range, despite having lower energy requirements, because of a greater reliance on salmon. Although Figure 2 illustrates this point using individuals, the range also reflects expected differences in the relative contribution of salmon to restorative diets across the multiple and diverse First Nations who live along the coast of British Columbia.
Comparing restorative and disrupted harvest rates
The likely rates of salmon harvest needed to support restorative diets are consistently higher than evidence of contemporary harvest, use, and allocation among coastal First Nations suggest. In particular, there is a pronounced gap between rates of consumption suggested by contemporary diets (Marushka et al. 2019) and rates expected in restorative diets: salmon are expected to contribute six to 16 times more calories in restorative diets than they contributed to the diets of people who recently participated in dietary surveys (Chan et al. 2011, Marushka et al. 2019). Contemporary harvest rates suggested by FSC catch data (Gunton and Broadbent 2012) and average allocated amounts for First Nations FSC (First Nation Panel on Fisheries 2004) should also reflect such uses as trade, feasting, and potlatching. Nonetheless, those estimates also fall below the lower bound of our estimated restorative harvest rates, which are only intended to reflect dietary uses. Figure 3 compares the distribution of likely restorative harvest rates with estimates of harvest rates on the basis of contemporary evidence converted to comparable units. The central 50% of the restorative harvest rates are higher than the central 50% of contemporary rates of harvest suggested across the three sources (Fig. 3, boxes). Ninety-five percent of the restorative harvest rates exceed the median harvest rate suggested by the contemporary diets, 86% exceed the median FSC allocation amount, and 82% exceed the median from contemporary FSC catch data.
When comparing the median rate of harvest for a restorative diet with harvest rates based on contemporary use for coastal First Nations in Figure 4, we find restorative diet harvest rates are three to 14 times greater than harvest rates suggested by evidence of contemporary salmon use. For a community of 500 people, the difference between median values amounts to roughly 13,000 to 17,000 more fish per year to support a restorative diet than is suggested by contemporary diets, FSC catches, or FSC allocation.
Considering Nation-specific estimates of contemporary rates of salmon use, harvest, or allocation, the rates of salmon use expected within restorative diets remain consistently higher. As would be expected, the gap is again greatest when looking at estimates of salmon’s contribution specifically to diets (e.g., Kuhnlein et al. 2013), which offers the most conceptually consistent comparison with the restorative diet rates. In comparison to sources reporting FSC catch and allocation rates, the coastwide median harvest rate for restorative diets is about four to seven times greater. The only exception in which contemporary FSC allocation falls within harvest rates consistent with restoring diets comes from the Cohen Commission, which reported, in discussing the inconsistencies of allocated amounts among First Nations, that one Nation was allocated an amount of sockeye salmon for FSC purposes that would be consistent with the restorative diets estimated here (Cohen 2012). Sources that provide estimates from outside of the focal geographic area, including from Washington State and Alaska, offer a chance to consider restorative diets and harvest rates among distinct peoples and policy contexts beyond the scope of this current paper.
The approach employed in this paper has allowed us to bring together multiple lines of evidence to demonstrate the magnitude of the difference between salmon harvest rates that are consistent with a restorative diet in comparison to published estimates of contemporary, disrupted diets and amounts allocated for FSC purposes. Doing so provides a speculative indication of how much more salmon should be accessible to coastal First Nations for the minimum basis of meeting dietary needs. Others have noted the implications of consulting historical baselines in setting fisheries management strategies (Eckert et al. 2018) and ecological restoration goals (Haggan et al. 1999, Jackson et al. 2011); whereas scholars within food studies have noted the importance of restoring Indigenous food systems for Indigenous sovereignty (Whyte 2018) and dietary health (Kuhnlein et al. 2006).
Notably, as dietary uses of salmon are only one of multiple ways salmon contribute to coastal First Nations, the estimated rate of harvest developed here reflects only a portion of a defensible harvest volume; it is not a quantification of all salmon needs or rights. Further, this approach is not intended to reconstruct a past diet that has been lost, or to quantify the losses. Rather, we offer it as a rate of harvest that more reasonably supports what a restorative diet might include and might also be useful for restoration and reconciliation goals (e.g., Fisheries Resources Reconciliation Agreement 2021).
We are acutely aware of concerns regarding the potential harm associated with the modeled estimates or the modeling approach itself being used counter to the goals of coastal First Nations. Although we continue to work to support individual First Nations in applying methods informed by the approach taken in this paper, we do not intend the current modeling approach to be the sole means of arriving at defensible rates of harvest. Rather, it is intended exclusively to broadly illustrate the extent to which contemporary assessments of “needs” may be underestimated, with repercussions for First Nations’ capabilities to care for and sustain their communities. Further, the current modeling approach does not aim to quantify a rate of salmon harvest necessary to meet the full needs and rights of coastal First Nations. As a precaution, we have chosen to not present a single, average harvest rate that would be associated with a restorative diet. Throughout we share a range of reasonable minimum harvest rates only and their relative comparison with estimates of contemporary rates of harvest. No upper bound is defined or implied.
The estimated contribution of salmon to a restorative diet for coastal First Nations arrived at herein aligns with other estimates in the literature (e.g., Hewes 1973, Satterfield et al. 2015, Adams et al. 2021; Fig. 1). Additionally, the magnitude of the gap between restorative and contemporary diets we found fits within the range found by Harper and Walker (2015) for the Columbia River basin. This current work demonstrates the persistence of such a gap in a political and ecological context distinct from the Columbia River basin and brings the estimated gap into units and conversations relevant to salmon harvest plans and fisheries management.
The shape and range of the modeled values include high levels of uncertainty and variability across places and times. By accounting for the effect of the uncertainty around each variable on the range of salmon’s likely role in restorative diets and through repeated sampling from literature-specified distribution, we are able to demonstrate the durability of the expected gap between harvest rates based on restorative versus contemporary diets (Fig. 3). Predictably, accounting for the uncertainty involved in bringing together multiple lines of evidence across wide geographies and time horizons results in a broad range of likely rates of salmon harvest consistent with a restorative diet (Fig. 2). Although we appreciate the appeal of highly precise measures, which may only be attainable in reference to the contemporary context, we find that such narrow attention can lead to overlooking some of the most pronounced losses and interruptions coastal First Nations have experienced with regard to their diets and ways of life (Harris 2001, 2008; i.e., “shifting baselines,” Pauly 2019). With the potential for such dramatic changes and the magnitude of the demonstrated gap, precision need not be our primary objective, especially in these early stages (Jackson et al. 2011, Eckert et al. 2018). Further, and rather more importantly, the quest for precision may be supporting continued depression of access for First Nations through the de facto privileging of evidence pertaining to contemporary diets and salmon use (Turner et al. 2008).
With this important condition in mind, we now turn to notable limitations to our current approach for estimating restorative salmon harvest rates: (1) the assumptions of the model, (2) the availability of evidence to inform the model, and (3) the limitations of the various methodologies used by the sources that defined the potential distributions for the contribution of salmon to historical diets.
Assumptions of the model
The current approach assumes that rates of salmon harvest are a function of energy requirements, the proportion of diets contributed by salmon, and a conversion factor between harvested mass of salmon and calories. Although this approach has the strength of basing minimum harvest rates on metabolic needs (Fediuk and Thom 2008) and is in alignment with the general principle of “only taking enough for what you need” (Brown and Brown 2009:5, Haida Marine Traditional Knowledge Study Participants 2011:4, M. Reid et al. 2022), the assumed directionality belies cases in which the relative contribution of salmon to people’s diets is responsive to slow salmon returns and harvest rates. Therefore, although the assumed direction of harvest as a function of diet fits conceptually with our aims of a harvest rate that is consistent with a diet less altered by shifts in abundance and governance, there is considerable complexity in the relationship between harvest and diets not accounted for through this approach. Additionally, potential relationships between variables have not yet been included in the model.
Availability of evidence to inform the model
The current demonstration attends only to the specific context of coastal First Nations and rates of salmon harvest. We focus on salmon because of their pervasive contribution to diets and all aspects of life in the region and because of the current, troubling declines taking place (Morrison 2020). The relative richness of data and information relating to historical salmon use helped in developing and grounding the methods, which are intended to be applied to other food fish, including herring (Clupea pallasii), eulachon (Thaleichthys pacificus), and halibut (Hippoglossus stenolepis).
Anchoring the estimate in practices and diets predating Crown governance does not offer much temporal specificity because Nations have harvested salmon since time immemorial. Some of the information sources available to us are more temporally specific, such as ethnographies from the mid-1800s to early 1900s that were used to derive estimated proportions of diets contributed by fished foods (Murdock 1967). In some cases, the temporal specificity of the information used to parameterize the variable distributions do not exactly align. For example, the zooarchaeological data used to estimate the proportion of fished foods that were salmon dated the recovered specimens, broadly, to the Holocene (McKechnie and Moss 2016). We do not suppose that salmon harvest during these two, very disparate, time points went unchanged, or that practices during the mid-1800 and early 1900s were not already dramatically interrupted (Harris 2001). However, these are the information sources available to us, and they do allow this initial exploration of difference between salmon’s contribution to a contemporary and a restorative diet. And yet using contemporary population figures to determine energy requirements may gravely underestimate the tremendous loss of human life across communities, caused by epidemics and colonialism more broadly, which are likely the most significant interruptions to dietary practices (e.g., Langdon 2021). Further, as we move into planning for future diets, we do so under the assumption that First Nations populations will increase, which might require revisiting the age distribution.
Methodological limitations of distribution-defining studies
Each of the methods used within the sources that informed the distributions of likely values for the variables used here have their own associated limitations. To the extent possible we aimed to check the effect of these limitations by using multiple and varied sources of information to triangulate the distribution parameters. For example, the distribution for converting between harvested and edible mass was checked against the conversion figure used by Fediuk and Thom (2008) of 85%, which was derived from a literature review and confirmation with technical committees through work with Central Coast First Nations. The limitations associated with ethnographic and zooarchaeological methodologies deserve particular attention because of their influence in estimating the proportion of calories contributed by salmon in a restorative diet for coastal First Nations (Appendix 6).
In attending to the apparent differences among archeological, ethnographic, and ethnohistorical evidence, Moss (1993) finds that historical ethnographic accounts tend to overrepresent the importance of foods that are harvested by men; that involve complex, dramatic, or high-technology harvesting methods; and that are considered high-status foods—all of which suggest that the importance of salmon might be overrepresented in ethnographic sources (Monks 1987, Gobalet et al. 2004, Tushingham et al. 2021). We therefore used ethnographic sources to estimate the relative contribution of fished foods, not salmon specifically, to diets. We checked ethnographic estimates of relative reliance on fished foods against estimates grounded in the relative proportion of fish in zooarchaeological data from coastal sites (McMillan et al. 2008) and isotope analysis of recovered skeletons of dogs, a proposed proxy for human diets that does not rely on the invasive and extractive testing of human remains (Cannon et al. 1999, Hillis et al. 2020). The ethnographic accounts used to parameterize the distribution used here included lower reliance on fished foods than these other sources, suggesting the current estimate likely underestimates the contribution of fished foods, including salmon, to historical diets.
Zooarchaeological data were used to more specifically estimate the ratio of fish in historical diets that were salmon. Specifically, the relative abundance of salmon to all finfish was estimated on the basis of the “number of identified specimens” (NISP). Beyond providing an upper bound, the relationship between NISP and the actual number of individuals can be unclear, as NISP tallies are likely to count the same animal multiple times (Lyman 2019). Whereas a measure of the minimum number of individuals (MNI) would reduce the risk of counting a single animal as multiple specimens, the same geographic coverage was not available for studies reporting MNI (McKechnie and Moss 2016, Lyman 2019). Additionally, Hillis and colleagues (2022) found that, in this context, the relative abundance of salmon can be overrepresented by MNI, especially in comparison to smaller forage fish. We therefore used NISP to estimate relative abundance of salmon. Aware of the tenuous relationship between NISP and the actual number of fish eaten (Lyman 2019, Hillis et al. 2022), we checked alternative estimates of the relative contribution of salmon to historical diets based on ethnographic accounts, 25% to 45% of total calories (Weinstein 2006 as cited in Satterfield et al. 2015), and landing data, 56% by mass in 1750 (Ainsworth et al. 2002). These comparisons suggest that the estimate based on zooarchaeological data (median 25% of total calories) is reasonable, and again might be underestimating the contribution of salmon.
Finally, additional concerns were raised by collaborators and knowledge holders that zooarchaeological data are likely to underrepresent the relative dependence on such foods as herring roe-on-kelp or eulachon grease, which are processed in ways that limit the presence of bones. These are two critically important foods to coastal First Nations and it would be beneficial to future research to consider, in conversation with Nations and archaeologists, how their relative contribution to a restorative diet might be appropriately accounted for.
Next steps and future research
There are multiple directions the approach presented here could be carried forward. These include, broadly, (1) efforts to refine the approach and resulting range of harvest rates through collaboration and application with specific First Nations, and (2) efforts to apply the methodological approach beyond salmon and dietary uses. Toward the first, we are currently working with individual Nations to arrive at more geographically-specific estimates of salmon’s contribution to restorative diets, and to incorporate unpublished information sources and engage with knowledge holders in communities to reassess the model assumptions and values of the defined variables. Within these specific applications, we intend to better account for preferred salmon species (e.g., sockeye or spring), preparation methods (e.g., smoked or baked), and location of harvesting (e.g., marine or up-river) as these might affect the nutrient profiles, harvested mass, and conversion to amount eaten, or the exploitation rate of particular salmon runs. The second involves applying similar methods to other species such as crab (Metacarcinus magister), halibut (Hippoglossus stenolepis), or rockfishes (Sebastes spp.), and expanding beyond estimating harvest rates for single-species to construct harvest baskets consistent with a restorative diet (Ouchi 2019). We could also begin to account for the many other ways that salmon and marine foods contribute to coastal First Nations, including trade, ceremony, economic opportunities, and consideration of the other plants and animals who also rely on them (e.g., Adams 2021). Finally, continuing developments in the field of archaeology (Smith 2018) alongside rejuvenated interest in oral histories and ethnohistoric evidence (e.g., Ban et al. 2019) are likely to provide rich sources of information that can inform understandings and assertions of what restorative diets for coastal First Nations might look like.
Through this paper we found that rates of salmon harvest consistent with a restorative diet were consistently higher than harvest rates suggested by contemporary diets, use, and allocation. The difference between harvest rates to support restorative versus contemporary diets was sizeable, and robust to accounting for multiple sources of uncertainty inherent to such an exercise. This difference has real implications for coastal First Nations and their capabilities to care for and sustain their communities; the baseline used matters for what is envisioned as possible and desirable. Academics and practitioners who are engaging with fisheries and communities of coastal First Nations ought to explicitly account for the fact that evidence of contemporary diets and harvest rates already reflect deeply disrupted systems. Failing to do so risks perpetuating interruptions to the diets and practices of coastal First Nations, and misses an opportunity to challenge the legitimacy of the status quo of fisheries governance, the status quo coastal First Nations are working to restructure. We offer the methodology and findings presented here as both catalyst and guide for further investigations of the conditions necessary to support the efforts of coastal First Nations, and Indigenous Peoples globally, to restore and renew their diets and food systems.
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The work was motivated by conversations and engagement Rachelle Beveridge led with First Nations knowledge holders and staff of Indigenous Stewardship Departments. Terre Satterfield brought forward questioning the use of disrupted diets to set ceilings on the number of fish coastal First Nations have access to, inspired in part by work with the ‘Namgis First Nation. Erika Gavenus led development of the methods and the analyses presented herein. Rachelle Beveridge and Erika Gavenus identified publicly available evidence to support the analyses. Erika Gavenus wrote initial drafts of the article with substantial input, guidance, and revisions from Rachelle Beveridge and Terre Satterfield. All authors were involved in sharing the work with Nation Stewardship staff during meetings organized by Rachelle Beveridge.
We would like to acknowledge the many people who have helped guide this project. We would like to thank the First Nations knowledge holders whose contributions motivated and informed the framing of this article. Specifically, this work has benefited from ongoing conversations with staff of Indigenous Stewardship Departments including Heiltsuk, Kitasoo Xai’xais, Nuxalk, and Wuikinuxv Nation staff present on the Central Coast Area Implementation Committee, as convened by their organization the Central Coast Indigenous Resource Alliance. Particular thanks to input from Sam Pascoe, Jason Moody, Chris Nelson, Iris Siwallace, and Alec Willie (Wapat) with the Nuxalk Stewardship team. We also would like to acknowledge Charlotte Whitney and Megan Adams for their continuing support in making the project possible and for their careful review of earlier drafts. Support for this work provided by a CIHR grant to Laurie Chan, University of Ottawa, PJT166024; GR015816 (UBC), and through graduate funding at UBC.
The code that support the findings of this study are available at https://github.com/egavenus/RestorativeDiets.GavenusBeveridgeSatterfield.
These data were derived from the following resources: Murdock 1967, Browning 1980, Crapo et al. 2004, McKechnie and Moss 2016, Statistics Canada 2016, Macridis et al. 2020, and Health Canada 2021.
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Table 1. Description of model variables, the defined distributions of likely values, and sources used.
|Percent of diet contributed by salmon|
|Proportion of diet from fished foods||The proportion of total calories coming from fished resources||Beta (alpha = 31, beta = 26)||Murdock (1967)|
| Proportion of fished foods contributed by finfish
||The proportion of fished resources comprised of finfish (i.e., excluding mollusks, echinoderms, marine mammals, etc.)||Uniform (min = 0.67, max = 0.85)||Dalsgaard et al. (1998), Satterfield et al. (2015)|
|Proportion of finfish kcal contributed by salmon||The ratio of salmon specimens to all finfish specimens adjusted for approximate caloric contribution
||Beta (alpha = 0.72, beta = 0.52)||McKechnie and Moss (2016), Hillis et al. (2022), Crapo et al. (2004)|
|Estimated energy requirement|
|Age distribution||The proportion of the population in each age bracket||Frequency distribution from data
||Log normal (mu* = 2188, sigma* = 1.32)†||Statistics Canada (2021), Health Canada (2006)†|
|Sex distribution||The proportion of population identifying as male and female||Binomial (p = 0.5)||Statistics Canada (2021)|
|Activity level||The probability of four activity levels||Frequency distribution from data||Macridis et al. (2020)
|Grams of salmon harvested per calorie|
|Grams of salmon eaten per calorie||Grams of salmon eaten per calorie for each type of non-farmed salmon in Canadian Nutrient File||Log normal (mu* = 0.65, sigma* = 1.27)||Health Canada (2021)|
|Grams of salmon harvested per gram of salmon eaten||Accounting for rate of refuse from harvested mass to consumed mass||Log normal (mu* = 1.23, sigma* = 1.12)||Crapo et al. (2004)|
|† The distribution of estimated energy requirements follows a Log normal distribution using the equations specified by Health Canada (2006) for a sample population defined by data from Statistics Canada (2021) and Macridis et al. (2020).|