This era of marine and other natural resource crises has initiated a search for alternative approaches to the evident failures of resource assessment and management practices. For instance, this was one of the lead agenda concerns treated throughout the United Nations’ 1992 Conference on Environment and Development. The resulting RIO Declaration, and in particular Agenda 21, acknowledged the failures of the prevailing assessment and management practices, recommending that nation-states develop ways and means for incorporating local user communities and their experiences in resource management policies and decisions. With global initiatives such as Agenda 21 considerable effort was energized in the search for resource management alternatives. As a result, existing ideas and proposals such as resource co-management, co-operative management, and community-based management were received more favourably in the halls and forums of political and governance decision-makers. Attention was soon paid to identifying specific qualities of local resource users’ experiences and knowledge that might productively inform resource management, while also providing local users with substantial ‘voice’ in shaping new management policies and practices.

The proposed research employs a social research and fisheries science collaboration to study systematically Local Ecological Knowledge (LEK) and its core constituent elements within Atlantic Coast Nova Scotian settings. The research is positioned to employ a unique, multi-faceted LEK data base as its point of departure.

These data were gathered through two independent research programs, one working with small boat fish harvesters in Northeastern Nova Scotia’s Chedebucto Bay and another focused on Nova Scotia’s Atlantic inshore and coastal ecosystem. The latter program in part employed a research design and methodology that was developed through the course of the former’s research processes.

The proposed research will enable the unique opportunity to merge these existing LEK data into one comprehensive body of systematically gathered information, thereby establishing the capacity for controlled comparative analyses. Additionally, the proposed research will extend and enrich these data through in situ field observations and interviews with peer recommended LEK experts within selected sites.

Specifically, the proposed research will address the following questions:

  1. What is the extent to which LEK claims are verifiable through direct observation and testing?
  2. What are the qualities of LEK (e.g., spatial distribution, seasonal occurrence, species habitats, and species relationships) which provide detailed and reliable understandings?
  3. What is the ‘ecological’ content of LEK?
  4. What are the essential elements in the design and conduct of LEK research necessary to generate reliable and replicable representations and understandings?
  5. What social and cultural processes likely explain commonalities and unevenness in LEK?
  6. What are the qualities of LEK evidence essential for positively informing natural resource management policies and empowering resource users with management authority?

This research will contribute to:

  • theoretical and conceptual understandings of LEK
  • LEK research design and methodological considerations through refinement and extension of an established research process;
  • national and international LEK research analyses, understandings, and literature; and,
  • the debates and proposals concerning LEK and natural resource management policies.

This research project is a joint effort between Mount Saint Vincent University and the Department of Fisheries & Oceans (Government of Canada).