Towards a Sustainable Fishery for Nunavummiut

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Queen’s researchers lead an ambitious project to help sustain healthy fish stocks in Nunavut

Anne Craig, Queen’s University News and Media Services Department in Kingston, Ont., Canada.

A lack of affordable, nutritious food and uncertain employment opportunities in Nunavut have led to the creation of a new project headed by Queen’s University researchers Virginia Walker, Peter Van Coeverden de Groot, Stephen Lougheed and Carleton University researcher Stephen Schott.

Towards a Sustainable Fishery for Nunavummuit has received $5.6 million from Genome Canada and a host of other organizations. The goal is to develop a science-based fishing plan for arguably the last unexploited fishery in the Northern Hemisphere, creating opportunities for employment and economic benefits for Nunavut along with greater food security.

“Things are changing rapidly in the Arctic and this is our opportunity to help,” says Dr. Walker (Biology). “Seventy per cent of people living in Nunavut communities are living with food insecurity. This project, done well, will go a long way towards mitigating that situation. The Nunavummiut should benefit from the resources on their own land.”

The team will work together with the Nunavut communities to integrate traditional and local knowledge with leading-edge genomic science to gain an understanding of the fish and shrimp populations. This will allow monitoring of their migration patterns and help create strategies to maintain genetically diverse and healthy stocks. Dr. de Groot will work in the field alongside the Nunavummiut using traditional ecological knowledge and modern day science to evaluate the fish population. “The challenges of fieldwork are daunting but working with the Nunavummiut and using their intimate knowledge of northern landscapes will help ensure our success,” says Dr. De Groot (Biology).

Dr. Lougheed’s team will do genomics work to help designate distinct fish stocks. Dr. Walker’s group will work to assess that the fish are healthy, which will generate confidence in the stocks and lead to higher commercial prices.

“The Department of Fisheries needs solid data to provide commercial fishing licences,” says Dr. Lougheed (Biology). “We also need to know how healthy the fish are and how many there are. But we need to work alongside the local people and use their traditional knowledge. We can learn from them, and hopefully they can learn something from us.”

The goals for this project are many and include understanding the dynamics of fish and shrimp populations, creating a fishing plan that won’t deplete the stock, working on obtaining a commercial fishing licence for the Nunavummiut, and providing training to monitor and maintain the health of the fish population. “A lot of fisheries around the world have been exploited and we don’t want that to happen here,” says Dr. Lougheed. “We have a chance to do this right and if we do, it could be a model that is used in other places around the world.”