Spatial restrictions hinder avoidance of choke species in an indigenous rights-based fishery.

Published online
22 Mar 2024
Content type
Journal article
Journal title
People and Nature

English, P. A. & Picco, C. M. & Edwards, J. C. & Haggarty, D. R. & Forrest, R. E. & Anderson, S. C.
Contact email(s)

Publication language
British Columbia & Canada & Vancouver Island


Nutrient-rich waters along the Pacific coast of North America support diverse fish communities that have helped sustain coastal peoples for millennia. Five Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations on the west coast of what is now known as Vancouver Island, Canada, hold constitutional Indigenous rights to conduct a multispecies community fishery, which includes Pacific Halibut (Hippoglossus stenolepis). A 2009 court decision defined the extent of these Indigenous rights to be within 9 nm of the coast, thereby not fully recognizing the knowledge and authority of the traditional leadership and raising concerns about the potential for an increase in rockfish bycatch. Yelloweye Rockfish (Sebastes ruberrimus) are a potential 'choke' species for this fishery because the two species occupy similar depth ranges. A choke species is one that is caught incidentally while targeting other species and, if caught in excess of its quota limits, can trigger a halt to fishing on the target species. Guided by the insights of local Indigenous peoples and using both fishery-independent survey and commercial longline catch data, we investigated the effects of fishing depth and spatial restriction on the relative catch weights of these two species using spatiotemporal models. We find evidence that a confined fishing area can limit opportunities for avoiding choke species. Specifically, fishing at depths deeper than 175 m, which occur outside the court defined area (CDA), would provide more opportunities for catching halibut while avoiding Yelloweye Rockfish than are currently available within the CDA. This Indigenous-informed, analytical approach to a management problem is just one example of how Western scientists can engage in coproduction of knowledge with Indigenous peoples to transition from the 'status quo' towards a practice of 'Two-Eyed Seeing' that more effectively balances Indigenous rights and species conservation. Policy implications: Our study highlights (1) the importance of considering choke species distributions and opportunities for their avoidance when implementing spatial harvest restrictions and (2) how related analytical and management decisions can benefit from being guided by the advice of Indigenous knowledge holders.

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