The Patterns of a Conservation Economy
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Sockeye salmon preparing to spawn.
Image by Michael Wilhelm.

Sustainable Fisheries

Most major fishery stocks internationally are in decline. Many salmon runs in this bioregion that were once economic mainstays are now either extinct or threatened.

Salmon and shellfish have been dietary mainstays of the Pacific Northwest for ten thousand years. Traditionally, salmon were caught close to their spawning areas using a variety of weirs and traps. This allowed very precise management of specific runs. In recent decades, as demand grew and salmon runs waned, fishermen began taking to estuaries and inlets in gill-net boats, then further to sea in seine boats, and finally took to trolling on the open ocean.

The farther from the salmon's home streams that they are caught, the more likely the catch is to be drawn from a mixture of different stocks, some weak and some strong. If fishing rules are set to allow a reasonable catch of healthy stocks, weak stocks are fished harder than they can withstand. What's more, the rules are often set ahead of time, based on imperfect estimates of how numerous a year's run will be.

Sustainable Fisheries attempt to reverse this trend. The schedule of permissible fishing times is revised in the course of the season to reflect emerging information about the strength of that year's run in each river system. Fishing techniques are adjusted to avoid species whose populations are at risk and focus on those which can sustain large-scale fishing. Where that is impossible, fish are captured live, allowing scarcer species to be released unharmed.

Another benefit to this approach is that fish are treated with more care as they are landed, creating a product of higher quality and value, and manifesting appropriate respect for them. Those top-notch fish can bring higher prices, helping to sustain Local Economies without harming fish stocks. Whether for salmon or other fisheries, such as crab, halibut or herring, the guiding principles are selectivity (to focus the catch on populations that can sustain harvest); quality (to create the highest value from each fish caught); and adaptation (to adjust fishing and harvesting rules to match the varying abundance and life cycle of each species).

Sustainable Fisheries ultimately depend on the delivery of marine and freshwater Ecosystem Services that can only be provided by restoring habitat on a large scale. Areas should be selected for protection and restoration based on their overall contribution to a species' health. For instance, "anchor habitats" for salmon have been identified that serve as critical refuges during difficult years. If these habitats are degraded, runs may face particularly heavy losses in certain years.

Ecological Land-Use and Green Building channel development away from riparian areas and minimize watershed impacts. Sustainable Agriculture maintains the health of riparian areas and avoids pesticide use. Sustainable Materials Cycles prevent toxic contamination of rivers, estuaries, and oceans.

Well-managed fisheries, which not deplete directly fished or indirectly affected stocks, are currently in the process of being certified world-wide, initially under the auspices of the Marine Stewardship Council. This will give them beneficial differentiation in the marketplace.

Tailor fishing quotas to the intensity of harvest that each population of fish can sustain, making sure to protect weak runs from by-catch in the pursuit of healthier stocks. Treat fish with care to show them proper respect and to return as much value as possible to the human communities where they are landed. Restore and maintain the ecosystems upon which stocks depend.

Examples of this pattern in action:

RAMS manages a number of stewardship /conservation initiatives designed to build community capacity and to enhance local understanding and awareness of stewardship issues.

The Hawkshaws have pioneered a selective gillnet fishery on Skeena River sockeye, catching fish by the jawbone, not the gills, and landing them live. The fish are bled and dressed live, making them the highest quality sockeye available anywhere. The Hawkshaw's method allows them to catch fewer fish, release any by-catch like coho and steelhead without injury, and earn three times the going rate for the fish they land because they concentrate on quality, not volume. Ecotrust Canada is working alongside the Hawkshaws to create policy and market openings for their selectively caught, highest quality wild fish.

Site maintained by the Monterey Bay Aquarium that provides guidelines on which fish and shellfish are produced sustainably.

The Lummi Indian Tribe and Life with the Salmon
" Fish is culture, and culture, fish."
The Lummi Tribe of Native Americans has resided in northwest Washington State at the northern end of Puget Sound for 12,000 years. Throughout their existence, the Lummi people have relied on fishing as the mainstay of their culture and their survival. They designed the commonly used fishing methods of the reef net, the weir, and the purse seine, and lived in villages along the mainland and throughout the San Juan islands. Ceremonies and legends related to salmon and salmon fishing, with names such as The First Salmon Ceremony and The Tale of the Salmon Woman have been passed down through generations and provide evidence of the sacred relationship between the Lummi history and culture and the salmon…

A program sponsored by the Pacific Rivers Council to label foods harvested in a way which maintains salmon habitat. This program certifies beef, wine, and other agricultural products meeting certain standards.

Organizations whose work incorporate this pattern:

Oregon Trout

For the Sake of the Salmon

Save Our Wild Salmon

David Suzuki Foundation

Marine Stewardship Council


Fobes, Natalie, Tom Jay and Brad Matsen. Reaching Home: Pacific Salmon, Pacific People. Alaska Northwest Books. Anchorage, AK. 1995.

Glavin, Terry. Dead Reckoning: Confronting the Crisis in Pacific Fisheries. Douglas & McIntyre. Vancouver, BC. 1996.

House, Freeman. Totem Salmon: Life Lessons from Another Species. Beacon Press. Boston, MA. 1999.

Lichatowich, Jim. Salmon Without Rivers: A History of the Pacific Salmon Crisis. Island Press. Washington, DC. 1999.

Roche, Judith. First Fish, First People: Salmon Tales of the North Pacific Rim. One Reel and the University of Washington Press. Seattle, WA. 1999.

Wolf, Edward C., eds and Seth Zuckerman. Salmon Nation: People and Fish at the Edge. Ecotrust. Portland, OR. 1999.

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Pattern Index

A Conservation Economy

Social Capital

Fundamental Needs

Subsistence Rights

Shelter For All


Access To Knowledge


Social Equity


Cultural Diversity

Cultural Preservation

Sense Of Place

Beauty And Play

Just Transitions

Civic Society

Natural Capital

Ecological Land-Use

Connected Wildlands

Core Reserves

Wildlife Corridors

Buffer Zones

Productive Rural Areas

Sustainable Agriculture

Sustainable Forestry

Sustainable Fisheries


Compact Towns And Cities

Human-Scale Neighborhoods

Green Building

Transit Access

Ecological Infrastructure

Urban Growth Boundaries

Ecosystem Services

Watershed Services

Soil Services

Climate Services


Economic Capital

Household Economies

Green Business

Long-Term Profitability

Community Benefit

Green Procurement

Renewable Energy

Sustainable Materials Cycles

Resource Efficiency

Waste As Resource

Product As Service

Local Economies

Value-Added Production

Rural-Urban Linkages

Local Assets

Bioregional Economies

Fair Trade

True Cost Pricing

Product Labeling