Research: Fisheries management of the Wuikinuxv bear-salmon-human system guided by n̓àn̓akila and data

New research illustrates how ecosystem-based fisheries management is informed by data from locally-driven research and the values of respect and reciprocity for wildlife.

Guided by the Wuikinuxv principle of n̓àn̓akila (to keep an eye on something or someone; a protector or guardian), a new study shows how fisheries managers can allocate salmon for wildlife, while balancing the needs of local communities.

The study illustrates how ecosystem-based fisheries management can apply interdisciplinary approaches that draw on fisheries ecology as well as local values in designing sustainable harvest strategies for humans and other animals

The team of researchers and managers from the Wuikinuxv Nation, the University of Victoria, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and Raincoast Conservation Foundation reported their findings in the peer-reviewed and open access journal Marine and Coastal Fisheries.

Adams, M.S., Connors, B., Levi, T., Shaw, D., Walkus, J., Rogers, S. and Darimont, C. (2021), Local Values and Data Empower Culturally Guided Ecosystem-Based Fisheries Management of the Wuikinuxv Bear–Salmon–Human System. Mar Coast Fish, 13: 362-378.

Fisheries managers face the challenge of balancing commercial interests, local livelihoods, and the needs of salmon-dependent wildlife. Sockeye salmon are a vital fish for the Wuikinuxv Nation and their territory’s ecosystems. The sockeye provide critical food for bears.

When the bears have enough to eat, local people and bears can continue to coexist peacefully, as they have for millennia. 

Finding such balance can be difficult, given drastic declines in local salmon populations. 

The research team analysed salmon and bear dietary data from Nation-led research programs, knowing that the amount of salmon in bear diet influenced the density of bears. Data from Rivers Inlet sockeye ranged as far back as 1948, and grizzly bear diet data came from community-led research between 2013-2019. Finding that a culturally- and ecologically-appropriate trade-off between salmon harvest and bear densities is possible was a pleasant surprise against a back-drop of general decline in sockeye abundance in the region.

“Our Nation has seen the benefits of Indigenous knowledge and western science working together. Wuikinuxv’s holistic views help form research questions that tie previously unrelated science or management policies together. When the Nation drives the research through an integrated lens, it allows scientists to escape the silos they often find themselves in. We can learn more from each other when we work together.”

Jennifer Walkus, Wuikinuxv Nation Elected Councillor, study author, former Fisheries Manager

The study found that people and bears can currently share salmon without harming each other’s interests. By setting sockeye harvest limits at ~10% less than those expected to maximize harvest for people they expect to reduce bear densities by a similarly modest 10%, a trade-off that is not only operable but honours the Wuikinuxv spirit of n̓àn̓akila. While this is possible now, it might be more challenging to implement should a commercial fishery ever re-open in Rivers Inlet if and when the sockeye population rebuilds. This was a major motivator for the Wuikinuxv Stewardship department to undertake this work.


Despite numerous examples of ecosystem-based fisheries management (EBFM) addressing tradeoffs between ecological and commercial fishery interests, local social and cultural concerns are less frequently considered. We illustrate how Indigenous fishery harvest goals and data from locally driven wildlife research can inform EBFM, guided by cultural values of respect for and reciprocity with wildlife. Grizzly bears Ursus arctos horribilis hold particular importance for the Wuikinuxv First Nation in Rivers Inlet, British Columbia, where people and bears have coexisted as consumers of Sockeye Salmon Oncorhynchus nerka for millennia. The region’s valuable commercial fishery, active since the late 1800s, has been closed since the Sockeye Salmon population collapsed in the mid-1990s, but the Wuikinuxv maintain a modest food, social, and ceremonial (FSC) harvest. To address questions about balancing the needs of fishers and ecosystem recipients, we quantified tradeoffs between long-term maximum sustainable fishery yield and ecosystem benefits (for which bear density served as a proxy). We fitted age-structured state-space spawner–recruitment models and estimated relationships among spawner abundance, long-term fishery yields, and relative bear densities in time periods before and after the population collapse. We found that predicted maximum postcollapse bear density was 74% of maximum precollapse densities. We estimated a 94% decline in Sockeye Salmon equilibrium population size (from ˜3,115,000 to 200,000), resulting in a commensurate decline in maximum sustainable fishery yield. Despite this, we showed that Wuikinuxv FSC harvest goals are compatible with an EBFM target that seeks also to sustain relatively high bear densities, whereby relative fishery yield and bear density are reduced about 10% from their respective maxima, assuming that current Sockeye Salmon productivity and carrying capacity remain similar for the foreseeable future, although these estimates are highly uncertain. Collectively, our findings illustrate how EBFM can apply interdisciplinary approaches that draw not only on fisheries ecology but also local values to design sustainable harvest strategies for diverse beneficiaries.

Select figures

Figure 1

Map of Wuikinuxv Lake watershed and neighbouring watersheds.
Wuikinuxv Lake watershed and neighboring watersheds (dark gray, 3,580 km2; Province of British Columbia 2018), located in Wuikinuxv Territory at Rivers Inlet, British Columbia, Canada. Grizzly bears were detected at hair collection traps (n = 23, distributed evenly over 575 km2) throughout the study area from 2013 to 2018 (Adams et al. 2017). The asterisk denotes Katit village, where most Wuikinuxv Nation food, social, and ceremonial (FSC) harvest for on- and off-reserve community members occurs and where the sonar has been in operation. Thick gray lines represent salmon-bearing streams and rivers in the region. Sockeye Salmon spawn in the Wuikinuxv Lake tributaries and primarily rear in the lake.

Figure 2

A chart of Sockeye spawner abundance from 1948 to 2018.
Total reconstructed spawner abundance and harvest by commercial and food, social, and ceremonial (FSC) fisheries for Wuikinuxv Lake Sockeye Salmon, 1948–2018. Mean FSC harvest rates are less than 1% (range = 0.01–2.50%), making FSC harvest undiscernible. Total harvest rates (%) are shown in red.


  • Department of Geography, University of Victoria, BC
  • Raincoast Conservation Foundation, Sidney, BC
  • Hakai Institute, Campbell River, BC
  • Department of Forest and Conservation Science, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC
  • Institute of Ocean Sciences, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Sidney, BC
  • Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon, USA
  • Wuikinuxv Integrated Resource Stewardship Department, Wuikinuxv Nation, Katit, BC

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Coastal wolf with a salmon in its month.
Photo by Dene Rossouw.