Nova Scotia

Project aims to conserve vital Mi'kmaw food sources

A project called Apoqnmatulti’k — Mi’kmaq for “we help each other” — hopes to protect American eels, American lobster and Atlantic tomcod on the ancestral lands of the Mi’kmaq.

Project uses a of mixture of traditional Indigenous land-based knowledge with Western science

Using acoustic telemetry, the project studies the movement and habitat of three species in the Bras d’Or Lake and Bay of Fundy. (Apoqnmatulti'k/Facebook)

Skyler Jeddore learned everything he knows about the land from his family, friends and community.

He grew up in Eskasoni First Nation, on the shores of the Bras d'Or Lake in Cape Breton. Now he's helping conserve the species that make their home in the waters his community depends on.

"You have to know how much you're taking is not too much. You want there to be sustainability," Jeddore said. "You want your next generation, your children, your children's children, for the next seven generations to have something in the future."

Jeddore is the community liaison in a project that aims to protect American eels, American lobster and Atlantic tomcod in the waterways of the ancestral lands of the Mi'kmaq.

The project is called Apoqnmatulti'k, which is Mi'kmaq for "we help each other." It involves Mi'kmaw knowledge holders and local harvesters like Jeddore, working side by side with commercial fishermen, academic researchers and government scientists.

Skyler Jeddore is the community liaison for Apoqnmatulti’k. (Submitted by Skyler Jeddore)

The aim of the project is to use acoustic telemetry to study the movement and habitat of the three species in the Bras D'Or Lake and Bay of Fundy.

A transmitter attached to the species tells the researchers many things about their life cycle, including where they spawn, and where and when they die.

The project began in 2019 and was set to run for three years, but is being extended until at least 2022. It is funded by academic grants and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

Apoqnmatulti'k follows the principle of "Two-Eyed Seeing," the bringing together of Indigenous and local knowledge with Western science.

Jeddore feels he is the two-eyed seer in this situation, as he is teaching the biologists his language and knowledge that has been passed down for generations, and they teach him things in the lab.

"I wish to bring back knowledge," he said. "I want the people to know, I want the children to learn what we learned with this project about what's available, and how much resources people should use."

Acoustic tracking is usually reserved for animals that are commercially valuable. (Apoqnmatulti'k/Facebook)

Fred Whoriskey is the executive director of the Ocean Tracking Network, one of the partner organizations of the Apoqnmatulti'k project. He said acoustic tracking is usually reserved for animals that are commercially valuable. Tracking eel, lobster and tomcod isn't common.

"[These species] are important to the communities that are to some degree dependent on them for their food security, so that's a very important issue," Whoriskey said.

Jeddore explained how these species, especially eel, have been valuable to the Mi'kmaq for centuries, both as food and for their medicinal uses.

"Eels have always been the No. 1 fish food source around here," he said. "There used to be so much eels. Back in the day you could get them any time of the year."

Jeddore pointed out how Atlantic cod used to be a major food source for the Mi'kmaq, until the stock dropped dramatically in the 1990s due to commercial overfishing.

The data from the transmitters tells the researchers about the animal’s life cycle. (Apoqnmatulti'k/Facebook)

He said conservation measures are crucial to avoiding this same fate with other species.

So far, Whoriskey said 78 eel have been tagged, along with 38 lobster and 214 tomcod. One-hundred sixteen receivers have been placed in the bodies of water, and are replaced every year.

Whoriskey and Jeddore hope the findings lead to better resource management. 

"There's also going to be knowledge, and it's a distillation ... of everything that we've done," Whoriskey said. "It is something that is useful to people who are involved in making management decisions, and in making policy."