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Impacts of industrial fisheries on coastal communities and culture: an Indigenous fisheries scientist’s perspective

In this step, Dr Reid breaks down the importance of community-based approaches to fisheries management.
© FoodUnfolded

In this step, we present an interview with Dr Andrea Reid, a citizen of the Nisgaꞌa Nation, an Assistant Professor of Indigenous Fisheries at the University of British Columbia, and cofounder of Riparia, a Canadian charity that connects diverse young women with science on the water.

Dr Reid breaks down the importance of community-based approaches to fisheries management, the complex interrelationships between fish, people and place, and the key role of Indigenous knowledge in sustainable fisheries management.

How did you become involved in the Indigenous fisheries space?

I grew up on the east coast of Canada in a tiny fishing and farming community on a place called Epekwitk, now known as Prince Edward Island (in Miꞌkmaꞌki territory). I grew up loving to swim and spending hours on the beach, so I think that instilled in me a deep care for the sea and all its inhabitants.

When I got to University, an amazing advisor took me under her wing to work with Ugandan fishers on Nile perch in the Lake Victoria basin. But as I was applying the scientific methods to these fisheries, I was blown away by how much the fishers I was working with knew about the landscape, how much they could read the water and tell me where, when and how we were going to find the fish. It really was that deeply human aspect and relationship that pulled me further into this.

Throughout these studies and experiences, I’d been getting support from the Nisgaꞌa Nation, the First Nation that I belong to – that my Dad and my Grandmother and our ancestors going back millennia belong to. I realised that I needed to do more to give back to my own people through my work as a scientist in this space.

How have you connected Indigenous knowledge and scientific training in your work?

A major methodology that I used in my work is this idea of Two-Eyed Seeing (Etuaptmumk in Mikꞌmaq). It means learning to see from multiple perspectives and bringing together the strengths of Western sciences alongside the strengths of Indigenous knowledge systems, and using both together for the benefit of all. It’s about finding ways that invite those multiple perspectives to be validated, legitimised and brought together as evidence when we’re working on problems that affect everyone in that space.

I think that there’s real recognition on the part of many communities that we’re going to learn a lot more about exactly where our fish travel to at various life stages. The Unamaꞌki Institute does some great collaborative work here, bringing in biotelemetry to track and monitor fish in ways that we wouldn’t have had insight on otherwise. But they also have other means of looking at the fish and understanding those histories by speaking to elders who carry stories that date back generations. I do the very same in my own work.

We can understand historical baselines of fish abundance, through a view that we hadn’t previously considered, and in areas that we often don’t have that kind of baseline data. But it’s fundamentally so much more than just data – it’s a whole different way of viewing and being in the world, and I think it’s this understanding, this relationship to so-called nature, that could be profoundly transformative for the current status quo of how we interact with and relate to the natural world.

*Biotelemetry: the tracking or monitoring of a free-ranging animal by means of electronic equipment that receives signals from a device embedded in the animal.

How has the general response been by Indigenous communities to share knowledge and work alongside non-Indigneous fisheries scientists?

On the whole, I encounter a great deal of enthusiasm and optimism. Increasingly, I see so many nations that want to engage. They see huge value in bringing together multiple tools and approaches, just as many Indigenous frameworks for thinking about learning have always embraced multiple ways of knowing.

There’s a really wonderful quote, by Cook Islander Thomas Davis, who says that, ‘if my ancestors had fiberglass, they would have used it’. We have long histories of using the tools that are available at our disposal.

But there are pockets of scepticism or criticism, of course. On the part of non-Indigenous scholars, I think that there are many who doubt the validity of Indigenous knowledge systems or see them as scientifically unworthy of being included in these spaces.

And while we have this school of thought within the academy that undermines the validity of Indigenous knowledge systems, there is also hesitance on the part of Indigenous peoples – well placed hesitance in certain circumstances – as to the motivations of employing these collaborative approaches.

If Two-Eyed Seeing is misappropriated and used as simply a new way of extracting Indigenous knowledge, so that it can be used as data and fed into Western science framings for Western scientific ends alone, then it is extremely problematic and it is not Two-Eyed Seeing as envisioned by the carrier of this teaching, Miꞌkmaq Elder, Dr Albert Marshall.

Why do you think non-Indigenous scholars doubt the legitimacy of Indigenous knowledge?

To accept alternatives, it requires a relinquishing of power and space on the part of those that hold it. That’s a big ask and one that many do not want to partake in. People don’t want to give up those positions or to complicate the decision-making process – that’s a big part of it for fisheries managers in many contexts. They want to make a clear decision based on something that they think holds the best information available to them.

There’s a lot of work to be done to have collective discussions about what constitutes evidence and what constitutes expertise – it is not just people who, like me, hold PhDs, there are experts in our communities who know the fish far better than I ever will.

But I think that people are increasingly willing to engage in these conversations and interrogate their own biases, privileges and what kinds of values they carry into these spaces. There are so many studies that do a really beautiful job of bringing together ways of knowing, and it makes it clear that we have the methods to work in this way. It’s more about the institutional and political will to make change. But we’re very much at a starting point. I think what people need to see is a successful application of these collaborative fisheries management methods for them to become widely accepted.

How do Indigenous connections to nature influence the ways that a fishery is managed?

To be clear, I just want to recognise that not all Indigenous peoples hold the same perspectives and values, there’s a plurality of Indigenous cultures that have distinct worldviews. But from my experience in the Canadian context, the way that many nations look at fisheries here stems from a vastly different worldview than mainstream approaches to management.

A foundational component of that comes from taking a relational perspective, where fish are seen as relatives to live in reciprocity with – not as objects to be commodified, and treated through command and control systems that we use commonly today.

Many Indigenous fishing ethics across the land now known as Canada, really hinge on these values. They centre on not taking more than one needs, of not taking all that can be seen, and of minimising harm through our activities. Those culminate in fisheries practices that are really couched in thinking not only about this present circumstance we live in, but in being responsible descendants to our ancestors and responsible ancestors to our descendants. It’s the whole notion of ‘seven generations’ – reaching back to my great grandmother, and to my great grandchild. These are both individuals I could meet in my lifetime and my impact as an individual can span those seven generations, so I’m accountable to all of them.

This concept is shared across many nations here and I think it stands in stark contrast to that capitalistic, commodified view of fish and fisheries.

What would it mean to Indigenous communities you’ve worked with for a key fishery to collapse?

When fish populations or species do get depleted in these contexts, it’s far more than just a loss of food for so many people. It is a loss of culture, of tradition, of language and all of the things tied to that fish. For example, if industry comes in and makes the water unliveable for fish coming up river, as many Indigenous scholars are making clear, that is cultural genocide. It’s removing this cultural keystone species that is foundational to who we are as people. I’ve had elders ask me, ‘Who are we as Nisgaꞌa if the salmon aren’t there? We’re salmon people, we can’t exist without them’.

I’ve also had elders ask whether the loss of the species is purposeful and is meant to disempower or to disenfranchise communities. I think that there are some really well placed concerns there, but there’s also some brilliance contained within it as well. I see nations here recognizing that reality and that tension and many are trying to find creative ways of confronting it by developing ‘culture camps’ with communities.

These culture camps allow us to come together around those fewer fish, and make sure that there is space for elder-youth knowledge transfer, so that those practices and those histories aren’t lost as the fish diminish.

Are you optimistic about the role of Indigenous knowledge in the future of fisheries management?

I really love the approach that elder Albert Marshall has told me about – that as Indigenous peoples in a country that is moving towards legislating UNDRIP (UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples) as law, there will be increasing inroads for Indigenous peoples to play really active roles.

We’re some of the few in this country who can take the government to court for polluting a waterway or removing fish because those actions infringe on rights enshrined in UNDRIP. I think that there is a great amount of agency and responsibility that is bestowed on us because of this, and we have an ability to oversee these waterways and to supersede provincial and federal legislations. I think that’s where there’s real power. I think that’s where we need to see this shift going, especially if we want to move towards more localised and small-scale fisheries and their management.

What’s next for you and what do you hope to achieve through your work?

For my hopes on what I’ll achieve through the Centre for Indigenous Fisheries, it really centres on making space within the academy for all of those who constitute Indigenous fisheries and Indigenous fishing communities. I really want this space, while it’s housed in the academy, to be a space for communities, for organisations, for individuals of all kinds – be they artists, thinkers, scholars, elders, youth – I really want it to be cross cutting and inviting to all.

Authors: Oliver Fredriksson and Dr Andrea Reid

© FoodUnfolded
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