Seeing the whole elephant – How lobstermen's local ecological knowledge can inform fisheries management

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Lobstermen in Southern New England come from a longstanding intergenerational fishing tradition. Their local ecological knowledge (LEK) on the American lobster, Homarus americanus can be an important source of information for management. This paper examines lobstermen's LEK as it relates to stock assessment and the overlap to science based ecological knowledge (SEK). Although in recent years, using vent-less trap assessments and conducting young of the year surveys, has set the stage for more cooperative research, in our opinion, lobstermen's LEK remains underutilized in fisheries management. There has been a steady decline in the lobster stocks over the years, raising concerns regarding fisheries management. For this reason, we turn to lobstermen's knowledge as an important source that could inform fisheries management. Using a semi-structured approach, the stakeholders' LEK and open discussions were recorded during three meetings where lobstermen participated with managers and scientists. LEK was transcribed and categorized and matched to the corresponding SEK described in the literature. Results generally found that the lobstermen's LEK corresponded with the best available SEK. LEK is compatible with an ecosystem view of the fishery that integrates the complexities of interacting systems. The lobstermen explained that they viewed their fishing grounds as “managed landscapes”, areas used productively, maintained and protected by them. These results are a starting point to broaden the base of the knowledge used in fisheries management enabling us to see the whole picture. Topics of LEK and SEK convergence are promising common ground, while topics where lobstermen and managers' views differ, can serve as points of entry to enable research and cooperative management. Both can be the basis for cooperative hypothesis testing.

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Journal of Environmental Management