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“We Like to Listen to Stories about Fish”: Integrating Indigenous Ecological and Scientific Knowledge to Inform Environmental Flow Assessments

Sue E. Jackson, Australian Rivers Institute Griffith University; TRaCK
Michael M. Douglas, NERP Research Hub, Charles Darwin University; TRaCK
Mark J. Kennard, Australian Rivers Institute Griffith University; TRaCK
Brad J. Pusey, Australian Rivers Institute Griffith University; TRaCK; Centre of Excellence in Natural Resource Management, University of Western Australia
Jabal Huddleston, Wagiman Traditional Owner
Bill Harney, Wardaman Association
Lenny Liddy, Wagiman Traditional Owner
Mona Liddy, Wagiman Traditional Owner
Robert Liddy, Wagiman Traditional Owner
Lizzy Sullivan, Wagiman Traditional Owner
Brenda Huddleston, Wagiman Traditional Owner
Melissa Banderson, Wagiman Traditional Owner
Andrew McMah, Wagiman Traditional Owner
Quentin Allsop, NT Fisheries Research, Northern Territory Department of Resources


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Studies that apply indigenous ecological knowledge to contemporary resource management problems are increasing globally; however, few of these studies have contributed to environmental water management. We interviewed three indigenous landowning groups in a tropical Australian catchment subject to increasing water resource development pressure and trialed tools to integrate indigenous and scientific knowledge of the biology and ecology of freshwater fish to assess their water requirements. The differences, similarities, and complementarities between the knowledge of fish held by indigenous people and scientists are discussed in the context of the changing socioeconomic circumstances experienced by indigenous communities of north Australia. In addition to eliciting indigenous knowledge that confirmed field fish survey results, the approach generated knowledge that was new to both science and indigenous participants, respectively. Indigenous knowledge influenced (1) the conceptual models developed by scientists to understand the flow ecology and (2) the structure of risk assessment tools designed to understand the vulnerability of particular fish to low-flow scenarios.

Key words

Daly River; environmental flow; fish ecology; indigenous ecological knowledge; indigenous fish knowledge; integration

Copyright © 2014 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087