Issue 1 (15) 2012



M.Y. Zadorin

Northern (Artic) Federal University named after M.V. Lomonosov
58, Lomonosov аv., Arkhangelsk, 163002
; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

With a growing emphasis to the problem of sustainable development and indigenous issues, states and international organizations pay attention to indigenous peoples’ ‘traditional environmental knowledge’ as “a particular form of knowledge of the diversity and interactions among plants and animals, landforms, watercourses, and other traits of the biophysical environment in a given place”. Sometimes its called Traditional Ecological Knowledge, it is typically associated with aboriginal peoples” [6, p. 198]. The purpose of the article is to show in practice how states apply indigenous knowledge to protect environment, especially in fishery activity.

Keywords: indigenous peoples; traditional knowledge; international law; sustainable development

The UNESCO/ICSU World Conference on Science for the Twenty-first Century: A New Commitment, 1999 considered that: “Traditional and local knowledge systems, as dynamic expressions of perceiving and understanding the world, can make, and historically have made, a valuable contribution to science and technology, and that there is a need to preserve, protect, research and promote this cultural heritage and empirical knowledge”. Referring specifically to the fisheries sector in general and fisheries research and management particularly, the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries (FAO, 1995) recommends: “States should investigate and document traditional fisheries knowledge and technologies, in particular those applied to small-scale fisheries, in order to assess their application to sustainable fisheries conservation, management and development” [2].

In Newfoundland and Labrador, most of the remaining cod live in the coastal bays. In both Newfoundland and Norway, fishers’ knowledge has been used to help identify actual and potential local stocks of cod in fjords and bays [5, p. 167–85]. In the Gulf of Maine, it has been used to identify coastal spawning areas for cod and haddock [1, p. 10–28]. Indigenous peoples of Raviana Lagoon (Solomon Islands) have exact knowledge about topa [8, p. 70]1 fish useful for scientists and commercial and state fishery entities. The indigenous knowledge on the behavior and ecology of topa is one such example. It includes knowledge on; diet, feeding times, schooling behavior, juvenile nursery areas, spawning, the influence of the lunar stage on nocturnal behavior, predation by sharks, nocturnal aggregations, individual color changes at night, spatial and temporal distributions, population changes over time and fleeing behavior [9, p. 69].

The interesting example is provided by Tanuja Barker and Anne Ross from the department of Geographical Sciences and Planning of the University of Queensland (Brisbane, Australia) in their research on indigenous sea mullet management in Moreton Bay [11, p. 298–299]. This method of fishing could be titled as ‘dolphin catch fishery’. According to indigenous Quandamooka tradition, in the ancient times, mullet elders guided the spawning migration of sea mullet northwards, up the east coast of North Stradbroke Island and into the Bay through the passages between the tip of North Stradbroke Island and Moreton Island, and at Cape Moreton on Moreton Island. By allowing the mullet to follow this route into the Bay, rather than continuing on to the open sea, the fish could be easily herded toward the shore with the help of dolphins [3, p. 16–22]. It remains common practice amongst Quandamooka fishers to avoid catching the elder mullet until the elders have led the younger fish on the correct migration path into the Bay and thereby passed on the knowledge of the migration route [10, p. 107–112]. The Quandamooka people use a number of different signs to indicate when the spawning migration has begun and where the fish are on their route. These signs are mostly land based indicators, although the most important signal came from the dolphins. In pre-contact times, Quandamooka elders would call the dolphins by hitting their spears on the surf, thereby requesting their assistance in summoning fish towards the foreshore. Dolphins would guide the fish into the net; however, tradition stipulated that the best fish were to be given to the dolphins in order to ensure they would grant approval for future catches. Objectively, this approach to sea mullet management is more holistic than that used by the official Queensland Fisheries Act (QFS). The Quandamooka people do not restrict their management of this resource entirely to the sea. The land resources play a part in signaling the harvesting sequence. Furthermore, the Quandamooka approach is one that incorporates both input controls over the resource (there are rules for when and where fish can be taken and by whom) and output controls (based on the numbers of fish and which fish can be taken at what stage during the migration path). It is different from the QFS management approach.

In Samoa, communities based co-managed, have been established in 38 villages in recent years. These are small, dispersed and numerous, and do not neatly fit concepts of ecosystem boundaries, larval dispersal or local fish migration routes, factors that would have been crucial in determining boundaries for a scientifically based Marine Protected Area. Village Fish Reserves boundaries were determined by communities on the basis of traditional use, coupled with contemporary fishing needs [4]. For non-migratory species, the combined larval production from many small protected areas could be greater than that from a smaller number of large areas. It is also possible that a chain of small protected areas, separated by only a short distance, improves the chances of linking larval sources and suitable settlement areas. The interconnections between small areas make it possible to protect a greater variety of habitats for a given area; this can result in a wider range of species being protected. Moreover, such a network has in a large perimeter, and it is at the perimeters of protected zones that fishermen can haul in the largest catches. In effect it establishes a network of fish refuges throughout the entire country.

Such model could be applicable to other states where small fishing groups have some degree of control over the use of bio-resources in adjacent waters, or where innovative governments are prepared to cede a measure of local attention. The results have confirmed that, regardless of legislation or enforcement, effective management of marine resources can be achieved only when fishing communities themselves see it as their responsibility, and are supported in their efforts [7, p. 124].

The Russian Federation has its own vision on the problem of sustainable use of natural resources according to the interests of indigenous groups. The several federal acts contemplate the incorporation of traditional knowledge of the indigenous peoples into the economic and social activity. The Land Code of Russia contains the norm about “the special legal regime, in accordance with the federal, regional and municipal acts” [12] for traditional methods of land exploitation. It was echoed by the federal law ‘On protection of environment’ with “the special guard on the indigenous habitat and traditional methods of activity” [13]. The Federal Law (FL) ‘On the territory of traditional nature activity of the of Indigenous Numerically-Small Peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East of the Russian Federation’ established the term ‘custom’ as ‘traditionally established and widely used by indigenous numerically peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East of Russian Federation rule of traditional native activity and the traditional way of life’ [14]. The same provision could be found in the Federal law ‘On specially protected natural territories’, where the indigenous numerically-small peoples and ethnic communities are allowed to conduct extensive environmental, natural resource using in ways that protect native habitats and preserving traditional ways of life, including fishery methods [15]. The Federal Law ‘On the continental shelf of the Russian Federation’ gives indigenous communities preemptive rights for marine bio-resources exploitation in the continental shelf water area [16]. And, of course, the provisions of the Federal Law ‘On the internal waters, territorial sea and contiguous zone of the Russian Federation’:“…in neighborhoods and traditional economic activities of the indigenous numerically small peoples, ethnic communities and other inhabitants of the North and the Russian Far East, lifestyle, livelihood and economy have traditionally been based on commercial exploitation of living resources, procedures and methods of use of natural resources of the internal waters and territorial sea, ensure the preservation and maintenance of the necessary conditions for life are determined and assessed in accordance with the Russian legislation” [17]. Unfortunately, in many cases these provisions are perceived as declarative, but not the imperative norms.


The bibliographic list

  1. Ames E.P. Atlantic cod stock structure in the Gulf of Maine, Fisheries. Vol. 29. №1. 2004. P. 10–28.

  2. CCRF, Article 12 Fisheries Research, para. 12.12.

  3. Hall J., Fishing with dolphins? Affirming a traditional Aboriginal fishing story in Moreton Bay, SE Queensland. In Coleman, R.J., Covacevich, J., and Davie, P. (eds), Focus on Stradbroke: New Information on North Stradbroke Island and Surrounding Areas 1974–1984. Boolarong Press, Brisbane, 1984. P. 16–22.

  4. King, M.G. and Faasili, U., A network of small, community-owned Village Fisheries Reserves in Samoa, Parks 8 (2), 1998.

  5. Maurstad, A., Sundet, J. (1998). The invisible cod: Fishermen’s and scientist’s knowledge’. In: S. Jentoft (ed.), Commons in a cold climate: Reindeer pastoralism and coastal fi sheries. Paris, Casterton Hall, Parthenon Publishing. P. 167–85.

  6. Peña Devon G., ‘Glossary’, ‘Mexican Americans and the Environment’. Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 2005. P. 198.

  7. Areas and Development in the Lower Mekong River Region. P.124. URL: mekong/docs/tlp-08.pdf (accessed: 12.08.2011).

  8. Richard J. Hamilton, The role of indigenous knowledge in depleting a limited resource – a case study of the bumphead parrotfish (bolbometopon muricatum) artisanal fishery in Roviana Lagoon, Western Province, Solomon Islands. P. 70.

  9. Richard J. Hamilton, ibid. P. 69.

  10. Ross A., and Quandamooka Land Council, Aboriginal approaches to cultural heritage management: A Quandamooka case study. Tempus 6: 1996. P. 107–112.

  11. Tanuja Barker and Anne Ross, Exploring Cultural Constructs: The Case of the Sea Mullet Management in Moreton Bay, South East Queensland, Australia. P. 298–299.

  12. The Land Code of Russia, Article 7(3).

  13. The FL ‘On protection of environment’, Article 4.

  14. The FL ‘On the territory of traditional nature activity…’, Article 1.

  15. The FL ‘On specially protected natural territories’, Article 9(4), Article 15(3), Article 24(4).

  16. The FL ‘On the continental shelf of the Russian Federation’, Article 11.

  17. The FL ‘On the internal waters, territorial sea and contiguous zone of the Russian Federation’, Article 21(3).

1 The topa, Bolbometopon muricatum, is the largest of all parrotfish, reaching over 50 kilograms and living to an age of at least 40.




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