Indigenous Knowhow & Conservation

Prof Ian McNevin said ‘the scale of Indigenous oyster harvesting is extraordinary’, and compared it to contemporary commercial oyster farms. Photograph: Orjan F Ellingvag/Corbis/Getty Images

Some of us writing in these pages have been fans of oysters primarily for their culinary value (living in France, and then later in Croatia, could create such bias). But we have posted more frequently about the resiliency that oysters have come to represent in the search for protection against climate impact. Here is some more on that topic, intersecting with another theme we pay frequent attention to:

Precolonial First Nations oyster fisheries sustained millennia of intense harvests, study shows

Researchers in Australia and North America say management of oyster reefs should incorporate Indigenous knowledge

Oyster fisheries in Australia and North America survived for up to 10,000 years prior to colonisation, sustaining First Nations communities even under intense harvest, according to new research.

The study calls for Indigenous knowledge to be incorporated into managing oyster reefs today. Oyster fisheries have declined globally in modern times: an estimated 85% of 19th-century oyster reef area has been lost in the past 200 years.

An international team of researchers studied historical oyster fisheries off Australia’s east coast as well as along the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of North America, and the Gulf of Mexico coast.

The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, combined historical catch records with archaeological data on oyster abundance and geographical distribution of sites.

In Australia, the research drew upon 16 known oyster middens in south-east Queensland – accumulations containing millions of oyster shells.

Along Queensland’s Great Sandy Strait, these middens are “deliberately made mounded structures as monuments on the landscape”, said Prof Ian McNiven of the Monash Indigenous Studies Centre, a collaborator on the project.

One such site was the Booral shell mound, on the mainland opposite K’gari (Fraser Island), which is 1.4 metres high, covers an area of 154 square metres, and contains an estimated 5.9m oyster shells.

“It goes back 3,000 years – it is just jam packed with millions of oyster shells, showing that there was very intense harvesting of oysters in the past,” McNiven said. Another site, on St Helena Island, contained an estimated 50m shells.

“When you look into some areas, the scale of Indigenous oyster harvesting is extraordinary – it’s almost getting up to contemporary commercial capitalist oyster harvesting intensities,” McNiven said…

Read the whole article here.



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