Octopuses and clam gardens: what ancient sea harvesting practices can teach us about sustainability

Most people wandering along BC’s vast coastline probably wouldn’t mind coming across small mounds of rock while looking for crabs or other marine life.

But to those who study these formations, they represent once thriving sea gardens that indigenous peoples used to harvest food and other animal products.

Kii’iljuus Barbara Wilson, a Haida matriarch and Indigenous scholar from the Cumshewa Eagle Clan, is part of a team of people working to highlight the importance of these sea gardens in the Pacific Ocean region with a online map.

“It’s time to…learn all that my ancestors did to make sure there were enough fish and octopus – caring and respecting the environment,” she said in a statement. .

“We’ve managed to live in the world for thousands of years without the massive ecological destruction that’s happening right now. It’s mostly about not taking more than you need.”

The interactive story map home page features animal icons that visitors can click to learn more about the region-specific Sea Gardens. (seagardens.net)

Wilson worked alongside a large team of knowledge keepers and Indigenous scientists – including project leader Anne Salomon, professor of resource and environmental management at Simon Fraser University – to construct the detailed map and write the accompanying stories.

The site features a combination of Indigenous stories and Western science explaining the significance of each sea garden identified on the map.

“People have learned over thousands of years how to change their relationship with land and sea not only to benefit, but also to maintain those relationships,” Solomon said.

From clam gardens to octopus houses, herring roe gardens to tidal fish traps, the map locates and explains ancient tools and practices used by indigenous groups across the Pacific Rim, including Hawaii, New Zealand, Costa Rica, Japan, Chile and, of course, British Columbia.

The site focuses on the study of mariculture, a branch of aquaculture that involves the cultivation of marine life for food and other animal products in enclosed areas of the open ocean and other sources of water. ‘water.

Salomon says the map is being used to track how indigenous peoples, for thousands of years, have managed the ocean and were able to adapt to changing environments to survive. She says analyzing these ancient practices could help people in the future cope with more extreme weather events and resource scarcity.

One example is the clam gardens off British Columbia, Solomon said. The gardens are rock walls built at the low tide line that trap sediment and reduce the slope of the beach. They date back at least 3,500 years and were used to create a better environment for clams to grow.

Salomon said the trapped sediment creates cooler temperatures in the summer and warmer in the winter, so the clams have a better chance of survival.

This ancestral clam garden on the central coast of British Columbia can act as a buffer against extreme temperatures, says researcher Anne Salomon. (Keith Holmes/Hakai Institute)

With the increased frequency and scale of events like last summer’s heat dome, Salomon said innovations like clam gardens can act as a buffer against extreme conditions.

Solomon said Indigenous groups, such as the Hul’q’umi’num’ and the Saanich people, are now working to revitalize clam gardens to reconnect with ancestral knowledge that government policies have tried to erase. .

And the Haida are looking to revitalize the use of octopus houses, which are also on the map. The houses are built in an intertidal pond – an area between the shoreline and a rock wall built to enclose the space from the open ocean.

They were used to trap octopuses, which were then eaten or used as bait to catch halibut.