BC study shows sustainable management of salmon fisheries before colonization

VANCOUVER – A new study confirms what Michelle George’s family has told her about their Tsleil-Waututh ancestral fishing practices targeting salmon both for their meat and for maintaining fishing.

VANCOUVER – A new study confirms what Michelle George’s family has told her about their Tsleil-Waututh ancestral fishing practices targeting salmon both for their meat and for maintaining fishing.

They knew that if more “females come upstream to spawn, the life cycle will have a better chance of success,” said George, a technical and cultural specialist at Tsleil-Waututh Nation on the shores of Burrard Inlet in North Vancouver.

The study, published Wednesday in the journal Scientific Reports, examined chum salmon bones from between 400 BC. and AD 1200 from four archeological sites around the fjord.

It then used a polymerase chain reaction or PCR test to screen for the Y chromosome, which would indicate that the fish was male.

The test showed that bones from male fish were significantly fewer than the females at two of the village sites, while something closer to a 50:50 ratio would be expected if the fish were harvested at random, said Tom Royle, one of the study’s co-authors. .

The study marked the first time the genetic technique was used on archaeological fish remains, said Royle, a post-doc student at Simon Fraser University.

The results highlight the success of the Tsleil-Waututh approach to fishing as the abundance of salmon in Burrard Inlet remained stable for at least 1,000 years, said Jesse Morin, archaeologist for the Tsleil-Waututh Nation and adjunct professor at the University of British Columbia’s. oceans and the Fisheries Institute.

“People have been harvesting the same kind of fish consistently, probably from the same places, for 1,000 years,” he said in an interview. “Here we are, 150 years later, 150 years of industrial harvest, and we have really wasted those resources.”

Tsleil-Waututh’s oral stories tell of people using overflows to catch salmon while the fish made their way from the sea to freshwater spawning grounds, Morin said.

“I could imagine that large traps have also been set up for these dams, so the salmon just swim into them. Large wicker traps, and then you just roll these traps out to the beach, out of the river, and then you pull up out of the river. salmon that you want, “he said.

“If you take a good portion of the males out of the system, the remaining males can still mate with the females without harming the population,” he said. “One male can mate with 10 females and get as many baby salmon next year.”

Tsleil-Waututh dams were torn down with European colonization, Morin said.

In the two places where the study found a more equal distribution of male and female salmon bones, Morin speculated that people had access to different environments for harvesting that might not fit a selective approach.

“Maybe it’s just the two villages that show male biases have access to the dam, right? They fish at the dam in the Indian River, and maybe other people are at other small streams and ditches here and there without selectivity,” he said. .

The study used salmon bones that had been stored at Simon Fraser University since they were collected during excavations in the early 1970s, added Morin, who sorted through the collection to find samples from specific times and places.

Vertebrae tend to be the best-preserved salmon remains, Royle noted. On the BC coast, he said, fish remains can be quite well preserved, as the sites of many indigenous ancestors contain shells, creating alkaline conditions that combat acidity.

In recent years, George said Tsleil-Waututh members have chosen not to exercise their fishing rights in an attempt to help rebuild salmon stocks that are declining to historic lows due to climate change, habitat loss and harvesting.

She said she hopes the nation will be able to use the survey to demonstrate their many years of skills and give them “a better footing to stand on” in talks with Fisheries and Oceans Canada on how fisheries are managed in their territory.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on November 10, 2021.

Brenna Owen, Canadian Press

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