Indigenous Fisheries Research Centre at UBC

February 9, 2021

Prince George Citizen – Andrea Reid, the Nisga’a fisheries scientist, professor at the University of British Columbia and National Geographic explorer sits down at kitchen tables with elders and fish harvesters. They know the fish intimately, she says, and their words offer insights into the fish’s demise — and offer her hope they will recover. Salmon runs have crashed across B.C. in recent years, with climate change, habitat loss and decades of overfishing fuelling their decline. Last year, the Fraser River’s sockeye run saw only 293,000 fish — the lowest number since records began — halting all sockeye fisheries on the river. Dozens of other runs in the province have also struggled recently. The loss is worrying, and not only for B.C.’s many salmon-dependent ecosystems.
“Many people identify as salmon people and have relationships with the fish that they’re part of who we are, they’re part of identity, and they’re so much more than a commodity,” she said. “They’re treated much more like a relative than a product, and I think that has profound implications for how we interact with salmon.”
It’s a philosophy that historically, fisheries scientists have largely ignored and colonial policies actively tried to suppress. For years, Indigenous fishing and management methods that had worked for generations were banned, she says, and decades of overfishing ensued. That pushed the fish into a vulnerable position made more precarious as the Pacific has warmed, crucial spawning streams have been disturbed and open-pen fish farms have increased the prevalence of diseases in the province’s waters. Returning to that relational approach — without forgoing the valuable insights offered by western scientific methods — will be key to the fish’s future, Reid says. That goal lies at the heart of her most recent initiative: An Indigenous fisheries research centre at UBC that will support Indigenous communities looking to use western and Indigenous knowledge to better manage, or bring back, their fish.
The centre builds on Reid’s doctoral work blending western science and Nisga’a knowledge to understand what is driving 83 per cent biodiversity and salmon population declines on the Nass River in Nisga’a territory in northern B.C.
“A big part of how we work is responding to community interest and needs and being a place that communities can come to when they want to have something that they would like to work on,” she explained. “For so long, researchers have played a big role in coming into communities with their own research agendas. We’re hoping to flip that narrative.”