A growing body of scientific knowledge is expanding the appreciation of salmon as ecological engineers and keystone species in salmon ecosystems. In some leading examples, the deep values that define indigenous people and their relationship with salmon is also being recognized and incorporated into salmon management. One location where science, management and indigenous knowledge systems have come together successfully is the salmon-rich homeland of the Taku River Tlingit First Nation (TRTFN), in northwestern British Columbia, Canada.
Following from our success and experience with the TRTFN in securing extensive salmon habitat conservation through joint land use planning with British Columbia, this project is intended to leverage TRTFN’s more effective advocacy for sustainable salmon population management through the Pacific Salmon Treaty process. This is a joint T’akhu A’Tlen Conservancy, TRTFN and Round River project.
The Taku River Tlingit First Nation has tirelessly strived to conserve their homeland, including the rich abundance of all five species of wild salmon that are found within the salmon ecosystems of the Whiting River, Taku River and Upper Yukon River watersheds.
Through formal British Columbia government designations of conservancies under the provincial Protected Areas of British Columbia Act, the TRTFN has conserved much of the critical spawning and migration habitat for the 5 species of wild salmon that depend upon these systems. This protection provides a long-term foundation that very few other northern boreal watersheds have – but this hard-won conservation may fall short. In the face of ever changing climatic and environmental conditions, the resiliency and adaptive capacity of Taku salmon populations will be severely tested. The cumulative effects of these changes coupled with current aggressive maximum sustained yield (MSY) management policies may undermine the ability of Taku salmon to adapt and respond successfully.
We must now work to assist and advance their concerns and commitment to ensuring the diversity and resilience of these salmon are restored and maintained by significantly changing the way each species is managed. These changes must take place through the Pacific Salmon Treaty process, at which the Taku River Tlingits have participated for many years at a technical level. The values and goals of the Taku River Tlingit First Nation overlap the principles and objectives identified in the Pacific Wild Salmon Policy. The three objectives of the Policy fall squarely within the vision of the First Nation:
- Safeguard the genetic diversity of wild Pacific salmon
- Maintain habitat and ecosystem integrity; and
- Manage fisheries for sustainable benefits
The Taku River Tlingit have long advocated for moving beyond outdated MSY approaches that manages for single system-wide escapement targets to management that is based on ecosystem resilience and sustainability. The Tlingit understand the multitude of individual salmon runs as the foundation for the Taku salmon strength, diversity and adaptability. To date, however, the Tlingit’s capacity to advance these ideas and present alternative models at transboundary management tables has fallen short.
Given its great size, species diversity, intact habitats and designated protection, the Taku River, with its stewards the Taku River Tlingit First Nation, is a flagship for salmon conservation. To perpetuate this leadership and to best prepare for climate-induced threats, the management of the Taku system must meaningfully incorporate the values and traditional knowledge of its namesake Nation with the best of western science and embrace the long-term conservation vision captured in the Wild Salmon Policy.
This work will synthesize traditional knowledge and western science information to provide the foundation for managing Taku River Chinook and sockeye salmon for cultural and ecological resiliency. The TRTFN intend to pursue 5 specific objectives, through a coherent set of activities as described below:
- Synthesize the traditional knowledge of the Taku River Tlingit First Nation about the cultural and ecological values of the salmon in the Taku River and traditional knowledge about the dynamics of Taku salmon in space and time.
- Compile existing documented traditional knowledge on salmon distribution and spawning areas, relative abundance and importance across these sites through time; and, indicators of Taku watershed health, particularly as it relates to salmon.
- Undertake interviews to fill in information gaps and update the existing knowledge library on these topics.
- Produce a report and compiled spatial data synthesizing the TK.
- Review, synthesize and understand the scientific foundation describing ecological values and metrics of salmon and ecosystem resilience.
- Meet with salmon researchers and experts, particularly those affiliated with the National Center for Ecological Synthesis and Analyses.
- Extract and synthesize the information on specific indicators that may provide measurable, efficient monitoring metrics to assess and track the health of the watershed and the resilience of its salmon populations.
- Bridge the two knowledge systems to identify ecological metrics that can be used to characterize, assess and monitor the health of the wild salmon system.
- Conduct a workshop or workshops bringing together scientist and TK salmon experts to review the findings from both synthesis efforts, discuss potential metrics and evaluate the effectiveness and efficiency of each to monitor resilience of salmon and health of the ecosystem.
- Synthesize information gathered to provide a combined vision of the attributes of a healthy salmon system and resilient salmon populations, and how these may be measured and monitored.
- Assess the health and resilience of Taku River salmon populations and the salmon ecosystem.
- Apply the evaluation criteria to the Taku River and assess trends by applying criteria to historical information, as feasible.
- Identify factors that may be reducing the health of the system.
- Support the TRTFN leadership to advance policy and management approaches that ensure the health of the Taku salmon ecosystem at the Pacific Salmon Treaty negotiations.
- Present the TK and science information on salmon health and attributes of resilience to the Trans boundary Salmon Treaty technical team.
- Identify sockeye and Chinook population management approaches and specific population modeling methods that manage populations using the metrics identified through the TK and science integration.
This work will build the technical and leadership capacity of the Taku River Tlingit to propose and effectively negotiate for sustainable sockeye and Chinook population management models, based on sound science and traditional ecological knowledge, furthering the objectives of the Wild Salmon Policy.
The project activities will be undertaken through a collaboration between the Taku River Tlingit First Nation Fisheries Department, Round River Conservation Studies and the T’akhu A’Tlen Conservancy.