Traditional Knowledge in Fisheries

Raymond-Yakoubian, J. Raymond-Yakoubian, B. & Moncrieff C. (2017) The incorporation of traditional knowledge into Alaska federal fisheries management. Marine Policy. 78: 132-142.


Brief History on Marine Policy

Humans have specifically sanctioned protections for fish to ensure that they remain sustainable resources and viable for generations to come. In the late 1970s, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) was enacted to combat dwindling oceanic fisheries population. The act addressed almost every aspect of the fishing industry, including the management of fish populations, the commercial fishing industry, and recreational fishing. To better manage this on a national level, the MSA split the country into eight regional councils. One of those councils is the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC). The article, by Raymond-Yakoubian et al, specifically evaluated this region and asked whether the NPFMC is using all the possible resources they could be to sustain these fisheries.

Fig1. Study area. (Raymon-Yakoubian et al 2017)

The authors are strong critics of the NPFMC’s Bering Sea Fisheries Ecosystem Plan. In the past, many protective plans have focused on commercial fishing and strictly science. The authors now argue that there is much more than just economics or scientific data in order to protect the open waters, and suggest that we welcome the concept of Traditional Knowledge.

Traditional Knowledge

Traditional Knowledge is a cornerstone of many indigenous communities. It is knowledge that is heavily reliant their history, yet relevant to today’s world. This knowledge explains the world as these people see it and the extraordinary phenomena that occur, such as the salmon runs. The authors argue that Traditional Knowledge can be compared to science in some aspects, and that it provides insight that science may not be able to explain. Therefore the authors argue that the traditional knowledge of  the indigenous peoples of Alaska should be considered to be just as valuable as federal policy and management actions.

The indigenous people of the Bering Sea and Yukon river include several tribes, including the Aleut, Yup’ik, St. Lawrence Yup’ik, Unupiaq and Athabascan. The area of the Bering Sea and Yukon River cover many miles and many ecosystems. The communities of this vast area have incorporated these local flora and fauna into their culture. This Traditional Knowledge could aid historical details of the area as knowledge has been passed from generation to generation. Traditional knowledge put heavy importance on the species and the respect for them, rather than just seen as a food source like in most western societies.

Some of the hunting and gathering activities surrounding these communities have roots to their traditions and culture and developed separately from commercial hunting or fishing. They harvest various species of fish, including herring and halibut, in addition to caribou, whales, bears and berries. These harvests are determined by time of year and season. These resources are extremely important to these communities not only in terms of food, but also for cultural and spiritual reasons. Unfortunately, fish stocks and fishing regulations have put a stranglehold on indigenous communities who are left without a voice.


Be Heard

As the drafting of the Bering Sea Fisheries Ecosystem Plan continues, there has been a growing public call for recognition of the indigenous communities in the planning. The MSA has not held up to its standards of containing a well-balanced pool of diverse perspectives. Much like how this plan won’t exempt a single species, it shouldn’t exclude certain communities, especially communities with so much history and knowledge of the area.

The authors suggest incorporating traditional knowledge into planning on the same scale that western science has been included. Protecting the fisheries protects the people. They posit that traditional knowledge may bring forth ideas to be incorporated into management and sustainability such as “principles of not wasting; respecting fish, animals and the environment; and not taking more than is needed”(138).

Fig2. Key aspects of traditional knowledge and FIsheries Management. (Raymond-Yakoubian et al 2017).


In moving forward there needs to be a better incorporation of all stakeholders involved with management and policy. As everyone’s voice becomes equal, the respect for the ocean and one another will be in harmony.


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Aidan Barry

I am truly fascinated by our ever-changing world, from ecosystems to the interstitial cracks. I'm currently earning my Master's in Natural Resources from the University of Connecticut. My research is focused on how sea-level rise and restoration strategies alter carbon cycling and microbial communities in salt marshes. When I'm not in the lab or covered in marsh muck, there's a good chance I'm down at the beach surfing, up in the mountains backpacking, or performing music somewhere in between. Instagram: aidanbarry94

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