Article Review and Commentary: The Incorporation of Traditional Knowledge into Alaska Federal Fisheries Management

In their 2017 article entitled “The Incorporation of Traditional Knowledge into Alaska Federal Fisheries Management,” Julie Raymond-Yakoubian, Brenden Raymond-Yakoubian, and Catherine Moncrieff consider a proposed Bering Sea Fisheries Ecosystem Plan and provide substantive recommendations for improving fisheries management in the Bering Sea. These recommendations include: increasing tribal representation in decision making bodies, capacity building for Indigenous and local populations, effective communication between managers and fishers, outreach and relationship building between management and local communities, the incorporation of Indigenous concerns and values into resource management plans, and development of a Fisheries Ecosystem Plan for the Bering Sea.

 

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) is currently in the process of drafting a Bering Sea Fisheries Ecosystem Plan (FEP) to guide and inform their fisheries management actions in the Bering Sea. The NPFMC is one of eight regional councils established by the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act in 1976 to manage fisheries in the 200-mile exclusive economic zone. The NPFMC indicate that an FEP for the Bering Sea could be used to guide policy options and associated opportunities, risks and trade-offs affecting FMP species and the broader Bering Sea ecosystem in a systemic manner.

 

The authors start from the assumption that traditional knowledge (TK) should be considered equal to science from epistemic, policy and management perspectives. They base this assumption on the idea that TK offers unique benefits including knowledge derived from long-term, practical, in situ observations and engagement with the environment; an idea that has garnered lots of support in the discourse surrounding TK. To access the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development report “Protecting and Promoting Traditional Knowledge: Systems, National Experiences and International Dimensions, see here. For a more specific example, refer to a discussion on community based monitoring and TK as it relates to climate change, here.

 

The authors recommend that rigorous, specific and formal process be developed for the inclusion of TK, TK holders, Indigenous subsistence communities, and social science of TK in all NPFMC-related processes. The authors advocate the inclusion of the social science evidence associated with TK because natural resource management is becoming more clearly recognized as entailing the management of human behaviour and so inclusion of social science evidence into resource management plans is logical. This recommendation necessarily includes institutionalization of meaningful consultation through National Marine Fisheries Service and extensive and rigorous implementation of TK into NPFMC-related policy, management and science initiatives.

 

They also recommend installation of an equitable representation of tribal and TK holder concerns at all levels of the NPFMC process. Community engagement is vital to the integration of TK into the FEP. In order to create a true partnership between TK holders and the fisheries managers, TK holders and community members must be fully incorporated into each level of the NPFMC process. Without a true partnership the FEP is likely to fall short due to lack of information or community support.

 

Relatedly, the authors recommend capacity building related to TK in NPFMC-related bodies. This necessarily includes increased funding for science and research related to TK and taking steps to increase integration of TK and TK holders into management and policy.

 

Finally, the authors recommend relationship building between management bodies and local communities to address conflicts between management bodies and local communities and build confidence in the management strategies. One issue to be addressed in relationship building is the strong sense among subsistence communities that fisheries management regulations disproportionately affect them over commercial fisheries. This sort of issue must be addressed and rectified through communication and integration of TK knowledge and TK holder interests into management strategies.

 

Ultimately, the authors note that there is substantial groundwork laid justifying the necessity of including TK in federal fishery management, specifically the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) and associated National Standards, and advocate for the inclusion of this information into the management systems.

 

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council’s Bering Sea Fisheries Ecosystem Plan is a good example of how TK can be integrated into resource management plans by creating strong and meaningful partnerships between Indigenous and local communities and resource managers. Both traditional knowledge and scientific information should be incorporated into management plans so they are both effective and efficient. In order to utilize both sources of information, strong working relationships must be created between Indigenous communities, their traditional knowledge holders, and resource managers. The future of resource management lies in these sort of partnerships.

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