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Original Research

Use of traditional environmental knowledge to assess the impact of climate change on subsistence fishing in the James Bay Region of Northern Ontario, Canada

Submitted: 27 July 2011
Revised: 16 December 2011
Published: 22 March 2012

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Author(s) : Hori Y, Tam B, Gough WA, Ho-Foong E, Karagatzides JD, Liberda EN, Tsuji LJS.

Citation: Hori Y, Tam B, Gough WA, Ho-Foong E, Karagatzides JD, Liberda EN, Tsuji LJS.  Use of traditional environmental knowledge to assess the impact of climate change on subsistence fishing in the James Bay Region of Northern Ontario, Canada. Rural and Remote Health (Internet) 2012; 12: 1878. Available: http://www.rrh.org.au/articles/subviewnew.asp?ArticleID=1878 (Accessed 23 October 2017)

ABSTRACT

Introduction:  In Canada, unique food security challenges are being faced by Aboriginal people living in remote-northern communities due to the impacts of climate change on subsistence harvesting. This study used traditional environmental knowledge (TEK) to investigate whether there was a temporal relationship between extreme climatic events in the summer of 2005, and fish die-offs in the Albany River, northern Ontario, Canada. Also, TEK was utilized to examine a potential shift in subsistence fish species distribution due to climate change.
Methods:  To investigate whether there was a temporal relationship between the fish die-offs of July 2005 (as identified by TEK) and an extreme climatic event, temperature and daily precipitation data for Moosonee weather station were utilized. To determine if there was an increasing trend in mean maximal summer temperatures with year, temperature data were examined, using regression analysis. Present-day fish distributions were determined using unpublished TEK data collated from previous studies and purposive, semi-directive interviews with elders and experienced bushman.
Results:  Fish die-offs in 2005 occurred during the time period 11–18 July, as reported by participants. Recorded air-temperature maxima of the two July 2005 heat waves delineate exactly the time period of fish die-offs. Two heat waves occurring during the same summer season and so close together has never before been recorded for this region. A highly significant (p<0.0009) positive relationship between mean maximal summer temperatures and year was evident. Regionally novel fish species were not apparent, utilizing TEK.
Conclusions:  Traditional environmental knowledge coupled with climate data revealed temporal relationships between extreme climatic events in 2005, and fish die-offs in the Albany River. Thus, climate change can directly impact food security by decreasing the number of fish through mortality – and indirectly through population dynamics – by impacting the yield of fish subsistence harvests in the future. By contrast, TEK did not reveal northward expansion of novel fish species in the Albany River or fish distributional contraction in the western James Bay region.

Key words: Aboriginal issues, Canada, climate change, fish die-offs, fish distribution, food security, health, James Bay, traditional environmental knowledge.

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