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Culturally significant fisheries: keystones for management of freshwater social-ecological systems

Mae Noble, Fenner School of Environment and Society, The Australian National University
Phil Duncan, Gamilaroi Traditional Owner, NSW Aboriginal Land Council
Darren Perry, Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations
Kerry Prosper, Paq'tnekek Mi'kmaq First Nations
Denis Rose, Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation
Stephan Schnierer, School of Environment, Science and Engineering, Southern Cross University
Gail Tipa, Tipa and Associates Ltd.
Erica Williams, National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research
Rene Woods, National Cultural Flows Program; Murray Lower Darling River Indigenous Nations
Jamie Pittock, Fenner School of Environment and Society, The Australian National University


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Indigenous peoples of North America, Australia, and New Zealand have a long tradition of harvesting freshwater animals. Over generations of reliance and subsistence harvesting, Indigenous peoples have acquired a profound understanding of these freshwater animals and ecosystems that have become embedded within their cultural identity. We have identified trans-Pacific parallels in the cultural significance of several freshwater animal groups, such as eels, other finfish, bivalves, and crayfish, to Indigenous peoples and their understanding and respect for the freshwater ecosystems on which their community survival depends. In recognizing such cultural connections, we found that non-Indigenous peoples can appreciate the deep significance of freshwater animals to Indigenous peoples and integrate Indigenous stewardship and Indigenous ecological knowledge into effective comanagement strategies for sustainable freshwater fisheries, such as Indigenous rangers, research partnerships, and Indigenous Protected Areas. Given that many of these culturally significant freshwater species also play key ecological roles in freshwater ecosystems, their recognition and prioritization in management and monitoring approaches should help sustain the health and well-being of both the social and ecological components of freshwater ecosystems.

Key words

adaptive freshwater management; aquatic resources; bivalve; comanagement; crayfish; cultural keystone species; eel; Indigenous ecological knowledge; Indigenous water rights; lamprey; salmon; social-ecological resilience

Copyright © 2016 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article  is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.  You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes 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