Dr Thomas Thornton

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thomas_thorntonDr Thomas Thornton (ECI, Oxford) ‘The effects of rapid climate change on indigenous Northern coastal peoples, with particular reference to marine food resources and indigenous knowledge’ (2008)

This project is on Far North coastal indigenous communities and fish and wildlife resources.  I am particularly concerned with the effects of rapid climate change on marine resources critical to the physical and cultural existence of communities, located in Alaska, Fennoscandia and Siberia.  These include both marine mammal and fish species, many of which have been shown to be highly vulnerable to global warming trends and are becoming fast depleted, if not endangered, in areas where they once thrived and traditionally were harvested in sustainable manner.  During my fellowship, I have focused on two species in particular, Pacific herring (Clupea pallasii), considered by most indigenous coastal peoples to be a foundation and bellwether fish for the marine ecosystem, and harbor seal (Phoca vitulina), a critical food source and co-predator with humans of herring and other marine resources.  Significantly, both of these species have counterpart populations in the European Atlantic, each with its own history of conservation issues and management conflicts, which can inform studies in the Pacific. Herring and seals are not only contested and threatened resources but are also species about which there is significant Indigenous Knowledge (IK).  For example, to date in interviews with approximately 45 Alaskan Tlingits and Haidas involved in the subsistence harvest of herring roe, I have found that these groups have an in-depth knowledge of the herring life cycles and spawning areas. While some of this knowledge has been documented in ethnographic sources on separate cultures, it has not been synthesized and brought to bear on contemporary ecological problems with harbor seal stocks in North Pacific ocean, or elsewhere. Beyond Indigenous Knowledge and conservation techniques, herring and seal fisheries have different management regimes within the political-ecological context of circumpolar resource use and indigenous-state relations.