Swimming Through the Boundary: Herring School Workshop

Tuesday September 13, 2011

by Shingo Hamada (Japan, GESA 2011 alumnus)

Shingo Hamada talked about the cultural history of herring fishery in northern Japan (Photo by Melissa Roth)

Four days after I left Rachel Carson Center, I was in a meeting room at Simon Fraser University (SFU), Burnaby, Canada. A group of SFU scholars and students hosted the three-day Herring School Workshop, which was the first gathering that saw indigenous peoples, fisheries officials and researchers come together to discuss current herring resource management in place in the Pacific Northwest Coast.

The current management regime for commercial herring sac roe fisheries in British Columbia is based on scientific assessments of biomass. However, predicting how much herring actually exist in the oceans and how much will return to the shores for spawning next year is a challenging task. There are still a lot of uncertainties regarding the behavior of this pelagic fish. During the workshop, I witnessed the difficulty in putting ‘multiple-realities’ into one direction, toward sustainable fishery, because different social groups have different systems of knowledge.

Mr. Steve Carpenter (Heilstuck First Nation) shared his story and wisdom with other participants. He’s a member of the Gladstone Reconciliation Team and First Nations Fisheries Council (Photo by Melissa Roth)

Let me draw on an episode as an example. I was in a small discussion group during the final day of the workshop. Based on observations by First Nation representatives, we had come up with a sentence in a draft of a consensus document – “modern herring populations are greatly reduced from their historical abundance”. But, a scientist rejected it because whether they are “greatly” reduced is not a matter of fact but still hypothetical, scientifically speaking. “Historical abundance” also needed to be defined clearly in terms of spatial and temporal distribution. We were talking about the same fish, but the fish creates multiple realities as we see it differently.

Nevertheless, it was great being a part of this trans-disciplinary workshop to conserve ecologically key species in the north Pacific coasts. People with different cultural and social backgrounds gathered to share knowledge, start breaking down boundaries and build trust among them. It was also great that the workshop also drew some attention from the media (12). With more public awareness of both cultural and ecological importance of the Pacific herring, this workshop will become a foundation for further serious discussions for establishing a socially just, ecologically resilient co-management regime.

For more info about the workshop and collaborative research activities by the SFU Herring School, visit their blog.

Skip to toolbar