Commercial fishermen rely upon their knowledge to make their living. If a fisherman explains exactly where and when he/she fishes and it’s published, others will likely decide to fish the area also. Revealing such information can jeopardize the competitive advantage of a fisherman or a fishing community.

Hauling lobster traps. Boothbay Harbor, ME. Photo by G.W. Coffin.

Traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) is embedded in local society and culture. Among indigenous cultures, TEK may be contained in stories, traditions, and resource management practices. Some knowledge may be sacred to the community or held among particular members of the community, such as shamans. Sharing such information with outsiders, or even with other members of the community, may alter, or even change, social relations within a community.

Eskimo woman stringing fish to dry. Bering Sea, Alaska. 1940. Photo by Dr. Ira Gabrielson, NOAA Fisheries.

Similarly, within many non-indigenous fishing communities, social hierarchies are often established based in part on fishers’ ecological knowledge. For example, “highliners” are fishermen known amongst their peers to catch the most fish and who have the highest incomes. Their knowledge of times and places to fish, gear, and bait brings them more success than other fishermen so they closely guard their knowledge. Highliners’ fishing prowess also typically translates into both respect and leadership in their local fishing community. Revealing their knowledge could impact the social relations within their fishing community

Salmon fishermen. Alaska. Photo by Karen Ducey, NOAA Fisheries.

Researchers should always get permission from participants, including communities, when conducting traditional or local ecological knowledge research. In the beginning, researchers should explain the purpose of the research and its sponsors to participants. They should also discuss the research parameters with participants, including methods of information collection, and how the information will be used afterwards. Participants should review the final product (e.g., report) before it is shared with anyone else and before publication.


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