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Indigenous peoples ‘have globally harvested billions of oysters sustainably’

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Now considered a luxury, oysters have been sustainably harvested by indigenous peoples world wide for 1000’s of years, a latest study suggests.

Researchers say their findings indicate that conversations about restoring ecosystems or conservation should include people whose ancestors maintained the ecosystems previously.

The worldwide study of indigenous oyster fisheries shows they were hugely productive and sustainably managed on an enormous scale over lots of and even 1000’s of years of intensive harvest.

The broadest finding was that, long before European colonisers arrived, indigenous groups harvested and ate immense quantities of oysters in a way that didn’t appear to cause their populations to suffer and crash.

The research suggests that studying these ancient, sustainable fisheries offers insights to assist restore and manage estuaries today.

In response to the scientists, the findings clarify that indigenous peoples in these locations had deep connections to oysters.

The study was co-led by Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History anthropologist Torben Rick and Temple University anthropologist and former Smithsonian postdoctoral fellow Leslie Reeder-Myers.

Dr Rick said: “Conservation today can’t just be seen as a biological query and might’t just be about undoing the environmental damage we’ve done in the fashionable era.

“As a substitute, global conservation efforts must be coupled with undoing the legacies of colonialism which brought concerning the attempted erasure and displacement of indigenous people everywhere in the world.”

In places like Chesapeake Bay and San Francisco Bay in America, and Botany Bay, near Sydney in Australia, oysters exist at tiny fractions of their former numbers.

Their numbers declined due to European colonisers establishing business fisheries which quickly raked in huge quantities of oysters, habitats changing, disease, and other species being introduced.

Indigenous peoples have rather a lot to supply by way of the right way to engage with this natural resource in ways which can be sustainable

Bonnie Newsom, University of Maine

The brand new paper expands on a 2004 paper which documented the collapses of 28 oyster fisheries positioned along the east and west coasts of North America and Australia’s east coast.

However the 2004 paper’s timeline in each location begins with European colonists’ creation of business oyster fisheries.

The brand new study aimed to take a look at the indigenous oyster fisheries in the identical areas that appeared within the 2004 paper.

Researchers used the archaeological record – specifically to accumulations of oyster shells which can be also often called middens – to assemble information for these North American and Australian sites.

They assessed which pieces of knowledge were available for the best variety of locations and realised that the load of the oyster shells or the variety of individual oysters at a site were the 2 data sets that were most consistent.

Study co-author Bonnie Newsom, an anthropologist on the University of Maine and citizen of the Penobscot Indian Nation, said: “Oyster harvesting didn’t start 500 years ago with the arrival of Europeans.

“Indigenous peoples had a relationship with and understood this species well enough to make use of it as a part of their subsistence and cultural practices.

“Indigenous peoples have rather a lot to supply by way of the right way to engage with this natural resource in ways which can be sustainable.”

A few of the oldest oyster middens are present in California and Massachusetts and date back greater than 6,000 years.

In lots of these places, prior studies have suggested indigenous harvests remained sustainable despite their long tenure and significant numbers.

Dr Rick said: “What this study does is it says we’d like to start out a broader dialogue once we look to revive an ecosystem or make conservation decisions.

“On this case, that dialogue needs to incorporate the indigenous peoples whose ancestors stewarded these ecosystems for millennia.

“This broadening of perspectives can enhance biological conservation and help restore connections between Indigenous peoples and their ancestral homelands.”

– The findings are published in Nature Communications.

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