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Traditional Ecological Knowledge

Traditional ecological knowledge on river herring is an important consideration and can help inform river herring conservation. A  definition of traditional knowledge from the Society of Ecological Restoration is included below:

Traditional knowledge refers to the knowledge, innovations, and practices of indigenous and local communities around the world. Developed from experience gained over the centuries and adapted to the local culture and environment, traditional knowledge is transmitted orally from generation to generation. It tends to be collectively owned and takes the form of stories, songs, folklore, proverbs, cultural values, beliefs, rituals, community laws, local language, and agricultural practices, including the development of plant species and animal breeds. Traditional knowledge is mainly of a practical nature, particularly in such fields as agriculture, fisheries, health, horticulture, and forestry.

Knowledge from indigenous and local communities are important to the conservation plan as it provides an intimate knowledge of river herring, the habitats where they live, and changes that may have affected them over time. Subsequently this is an important source of  knowledge of river herring’s local distributions, abundances, behaviors and threats. This information can be useful to help identify research needs, as a means of data validation, and identifying potential unknowns that may warrant further investigation.

The below provide a few ongoing initiatives related to traditional ecological knowledge: 

Tribal Information

River herring are important to state and Federally recognized tribes. Consistent with Executive Order 13175 Consultation and Coordination with Indian Tribal Governments, Secretarial Order3206 American Indian Tribal Rights, Federal-Tribal Trust Responsibilities, and the Endangered Species Act (June 5, 1997), and the Tribal Consultation and Coordination Policy for the Department of Commerce, there has been coordination and collaboration with our tribal partners on the development of the River Herring Conservation Plan. The following list highlights some of our ongoing work with our tribal partners:

Collaboration with our tribal partners, the fishing industry, as well as other partners and stakeholders, will enhance the ability to fully restore alewife and blueback herring. These two species are critical to fully functioning marine, estuarine, and freshwater ecosystems. 


“The Fish that Feeds All”

Fisher men and women, by virtue of spending much of their time on the water with hooks, lines, traps, and nets, have intimate knowledge of coastal, marine and freshwater ecosystems. They know, in detail, the local distribution, abundance, and behavior of the species they harvest; this knowledge is gained from years of first-hand observations and experimentation with different fishing techniques.

In 2014, Maine Sea Grant and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) received funding from NOAA’s preserve America Initiative to document and share harvesters’ knowledge of alewives, blueback herring and American eel in Downeast Maine. These species have been harvested by residents for centuries and are an important part of the region’s fishing heritage. All three species are diadromous: they spend part of their lives at sea and part in freshwater. In doing so, they create important ecological links between coastal and inland ecosystems.

Maine Sea Grant hosts  videos and narrative descriptions of this effort.

Coastwide Survey of river herring fishermen

As part of NMFS’ efforts to better understand the status of river herring populations, the threats they face, and how to best restore their populations, the agency carried out a social science survey to document fishermen and women’s observations of river herring. Commercial, recreational, and sustenance fisheries for river herring have taken place throughout virtually the entire range of both species for centuries. Fishermen and women have detailed knowledge of the fish in their local areas. They observe many aspects of river herring runs that NMFS considers to be indicators of the health of the runs, including the duration of the run, the size of the fish, and the abundance of the fish. Fishermen and women often fish in the same areas over many years and are able to notice changes in the fish stocks in their local areas over time. Past studies have documented examples of fishermen and women observing changes in fish stocks before those changes were evident in data collected by biologists.