Indigenous knowledge as data for modern fishery management: a case study of Dungeness crab in Pacific Canada

Introduction: Fisheries management is often data-limited, and conducted at spatial scales that are too large to address the needs of Indigenous peoples, whose cultures depend upon the local availability of marine resources.

Outcomes: We combined Indigenous ecological knowledge with simulation modelling to inform modern fishery management. Semi-structured interviews with Indigenous fishers in coastal British Columbia, Canada, uncovered severe declines in the abundance and catches of Dungeness crab (Cancer magister) since the 1990s. We modelled the current probability of “successful“ crab harvesting trips—as defined by expectations from past catches by Indigenous fishers—using fishery-independent data from nine sites. These probabilities were very low (<20%) for all sites except one.

Discussion: Our study highlights that local depletions, which Indigenous fishers attribute to commercial and recreational fisheries, have been widespread and undetected by federal managers who manage Dungeness crab at regional scales without fishery-independent data. Further, local depletions impacted the ability of Indigenous fishers to access traditional foods.

Conclusion: Integrating Indigenous knowledge with scientific research is crucial to inform locally-relevant fisheries management and conservation.