» Mapping commercial fishing patterns on the West Coast of Vancouver Island Ecotrust Canada
Scientists and fisheries managers often ignore the knowledge of commercial fishermen, despite their decades of experience at sea. In fact, who knows better where fish are located than those who make it their profession to find and catch them?

In British Columbia, there have been few attempts to systematically collect and analyze commercial fishermen’s knowledge, and to use it to inform decisions about where marine protected areas should be located. Ecotrust Canada, Ecotrust (US) and Living Ocean Society carried out such a project on the West Coast of Vancouver Island.

Thirty-six commercial fishermen were interviewed about their fishing patterns in the region. They mostly catch salmon, halibut, crab, prawn, dogfish and rockfish, using hooks and lines, or traps. The confidential interviews—some lasting up to five hours—netted a wealth of information about current and historical fishing patterns. Fishermen drew lines onto a chart identifying their fishing areas, and provided additional information on timing, species caught and gear types.

What good is this information? The survey admittedly included only a small number of fishermen. But the type of data collected, when combined with scientific and stock assessment information, can provide a better picture of fish migration trends and the health of stocks in specific areas. The information can also inform decision-makers about where to locate marine protected areas that maximize conservation benefits and minimize negative economic impacts on local Aboriginal and rural communities—the people who depend on the sea for their way of life.