GUEST COMMENT: Charting a course for Nunavut’s offshore fisheries

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As Nunavut’s current five-year Fisheries Strategy enters its fourth year, it is worth taking stock of Nunavut’s emerging offshore fisheries industry and opportunities for further growth.

Paul Pryce is the principal adviser to the Consul General of Japan in Calgary. He frequently writes on Northern policy approaches.
Paul Pryce is the principal adviser to the Consul General of Japan in Calgary. He frequently writes on Northern policy approaches.

With the decision by Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) in 2017 to grant an increase in the turbot allocation for Nunavut’s fisheries, the total landed value of the annual catch, both inshore and offshore, has reached approximately $148 million, which is quite an increase from the $14 million generated by the industry in 2004. Yet Nunavummiut still do not enjoy the full economic benefits of their strategic location, next to the pristine waters of the North Atlantic Ocean.

This is because Nunavut has only a limited capacity to process fish and seafood onshore. Aside from a few exceptions, much of what has been fished in Nunavut’s adjacent waters is then processed at sea by factory freezer trawlers or is offloaded in other jurisdictions, such as Greenland or Newfoundland and Labrador. Therefore, to secure maximum value for Nunavummiut, the territorial government’s next Fisheries Strategy could include several initiatives to promote value-added processing in Nunavut as well as the diversification of the kind of fish and seafood products Nunavut can offer overseas markets.

For example, the Government of Nunavut could offer incentives for businesses and investors to establish large-scale processing facilities in the territory. Similar such initiatives have been introduced elsewhere in Canada and beyond in order to foster the growth of emerging industries.

Such investment could also become easier to attract as Nunavut’s fisheries industry establishes a reputation of environmental sustainability and social responsibility. An assessment is currently underway by Acoura Fisheries to determine whether future in-store packaging of Nunavut turbot can display a stamp of approval from the Marine Stewardship Council. This assessment is expected to be completed sometime in 2019, and the seal would demonstrate to consumers that all of the Nunavut Fisheries Association members are responsible stewards of marine resources.

With regard to diversification, CanNor has invested in research to determine the commercial viability of porcupine crab. This is a bycatch for those fisheries using gill nets, and it has not conventionally been used as food. However, were a market to be found for porcupine crab, this would create more local jobs while at the same time reducing waste.

Fisheries of various cod species could also be explored, as there has been some reported subsistence fishing of these along the eastern coast of Baffin Island. However, such development would have to be pursued cautiously, as some of these species fulfil an important role in North Atlantic and Arctic marine ecosystems; for example, Arctic cod is known to be a valuable source of food for narwhals and other whale species.

This push to advance Nunavut’s offshore fisheries will require continued advocacy from policymakers. In 2016, the DFO scrapped its ‘last in, first out’ (LIFO) policy on the issuance of shrimping licenses and shrimp allocations in the North Atlantic, which has allowed for the entry of new players, such as Qikiqtaaluk Corporation. However, when it comes to turbot, allocations afforded to Nunavut fisheries account for only approximately 40 per cent of adjacent resources, which is substantially lower than the 80-90 per cent allocations for various fisheries resources Nunavut’s southern neighbours enjoy. Securing a more equitable distribution of turbot allocations would certainly fuel further growth in Nunavut’s industry.

Policymakers can also play a powerful role as ambassadors of the Nunavut brand, securing new markets. This is particularly important as Nunavut shrimperies contend with the loss of the Russian market: the Russian Federation had been the leading importer of shrimp from Nunavut for several years, but geopolitical disputes concerning the territorial integrity of Ukraine led Russia in 2014 to impose a ban on imports of Canadian food products.

In order to ensure that offshore fisheries remain a stable source of economic activity and quality jobs for Nunavummiut, dependence on any one market should be avoided. Trade missions led by government officials can be invaluable for achieving this by introducing Nunavut fish and seafood products to new markets.

Other provincial and territorial governments frequently undertake such trade missions. For example, in October 2018, Saskatchewan’s Minister of Trade and Export Development led a trade mission to Israel in order to promote exports of chickpeas and lentils. The Northwest Territories has also recognized the importance of face-to-face contacts in overseas markets and has managed, despite facing financial constraints, to provide the resources necessary for its premier to also lead trade missions to Japan and China in recent years.

Even if overseas trade missions may not be within the Government of Nunavut’s financial means at this time, support from federal counterparts could be sought, with a federal Cabinet Minister championing Nunavut fish and seafood products abroad.

The measures mentioned here need not be saved for the next five-year Fisheries Strategy. Yet pursuing the diversification of both markets and the products offered would have a lasting impact for Nunavut and another generation of Nunavummiut eager to find meaningful work at home.