Project trip to Nain: Reflections on fisheries management

Guest blog by Melina Kourantidou, Post-doc

In late November (2018) I travelled to Nain (Nunajnguk) for participation in a workshop organized by the Torngat Wildlife Plants and Fisheries Secretariat. This was part the first of what is sure to be a series of project trips for my new postdoc position funded by the Ocean Frontiers Institute – Module E, Ecosystem Indicators for Changing Oceans. The purpose of the workshop was to bring together representatives from Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), the Nunatsiavut Government (NG), researchers, local harvesters and Labrador Inuit Land Claims beneficiaries and designates to an open dialogue on the status, current management of fisheries as well as future planning. The main species of discussion were Snow Crab, Northern Shrimp, Turbot and Arctic Char.

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The group addressed issues that ranged from environmental changes and vulnerabilities such as ocean acidification, health of fish stocks and fluctuations in fish stock biomass due to changes in currents and tides, changes in water temperature, parasites and invasive species, to market components such as prices, landings, local processing capacity as well as fisheries management policies and measures such as mesh size, catch per unit effort, and various other components of both the commercial and the subsistence fishery. All that to say it was a busy two days!

The meeting was very informative and got me and my colleagues engaged in a series of discussions on how to begin our work in OFI Module E. My part of the project will be to identify and characterize ways to improve the governance of marine resources, especially those resources of importance to the Inuit in the self-governing Nunatsiavut region of Labrador. In particular, employing a methodology based upon the development of socio-ecological indicators and the construction of models that inform natural resource conservation, I plan to investigate broad questions concerning whether an integrated framework for ecosystem-based management (EBM) can lead to improved governance in this region. At this preliminary stage, my goal is to deepen my understanding of the economic and institutional determinants of marine resource use in the area as well as the major environmental and governance challenges.

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A lot of the difficulties and disagreements in marine resource management in Northern Labrador have roots that reach back decades. The Nunantsiavut Government is an Inuit regional government, among the first Canadian Inuit regions to have achieved self-governance, after nearly 3 decades of negotiations (see more on information on the Labrador Inuit Land Claims Agreement- LILCA and the path to self-governance here). Despite the success in achieving self-governance, and in including Inuit at multiple levels of decision-making, there still remain numerous challenges that have not been adequately addressed. These institutional changes to self-governance aspire to fundamentally alter the resource management dynamics and advance, in an equitable manner, the way resources (both natural and human) are being allocated. However, this is a rather gradual process that requires time as well as solid long-term planning. The good news is that there is already work in progress in designing sustainable and resilient marine resource management policies in the area: The Imappivut Marine Plan (Our Oceans) is a plan to manage and protect Inuit interests in the coastal and marine areas of Labrador by putting forward a set of concrete cooperative management plans for the protection of future Inuit generations.

The most prevalent concern amongst the participants at the workshop that drew my attention had to do with limited representation of vessel owners/harvesters’ interests in the decision-making process for marine resource use by DFO. Therefore, some of the participants took the opportunity at the meeting to express their concerns in hopes that the NG and DFO representatives would communicate them to higher-level decision making authorities. In the paragraph that follows, I’ll give a very brief overview of some of those concerns which I aspire to address in my project.

The processing plants in communities of Northern Labrador often have problems finding and maintaining employees due to problems with accommodation in those small communities; that is often seen as a waste of valuable resources. In addition to that, the fact that harvesters are not license holder but designates, that do not have a seat at the negotiating table, is not aligned with the policy makers’ vision for local economic development as it discourages young people from building a career in the fishery and therefore results in missing opportunities. Despite the ambitious plans based on the success of the LILCA, there is generally more action needed to support Northern Labrador; a way to do this, according to some harvesters at the meeting, could be to invest in processing plants in the area. There also seems to be a competitive relationship between large and small vessel: today’s technological efficiency allows for fishing activity almost all year round which creates concerns for the potential of large and efficient vessels depleting the fish stocks. I could also sense a conflict between the ‘communal’ (subsistence) and the ‘competitive’ (commercial) fishery, since the former is hardly monitored.  Access issues and rights allocation were also brought up in the discussion; although there’s a general urge for locals to make investments (in e.g. fishing boats), the fact that there are no quotas attached to their boats is seen as a barrier. The limited representation of local harvesters over the years in the decision-making process is seen as the main driver for lost economic opportunities. When the shrimp quotas for example first started being allocated, unlike in other places, in Northern Labrador they were not attached to other quotas (eg. crab) or boats. Additionally, in the 1980s, at the time when there was a general boost in economic activities in the fisheries sector, Northern Labrador missed the opportunity of transitioning to larger boats: licenses were not assigned as they should to beneficiaries and those licenses that were not renewed were lost.

Besides the marine resource challenges addressed at the meeting, an additional thing that I did learn to appreciate while being in Nain is that weather conditions can be a tremendous challenge if the necessary infrastructure is not in place. And if one wants to effectively support livelihoods and economic activity in Arctic coastal communities, investments in upgrading such infrastructure would have to be an absolute priority. Me and my colleagues were stuck in Nain for 3 days after the project meeting with no planes landing or taking off due to the severe weather conditions and the limited capacity of the airport. I am confident that Nain’s airport must be the airport with the smallest runway (605 m / 1,986 ft) in the whole Arctic; I can only reference locals for that, but a look at the airports with the shortest runways at a global level leaves almost no doubt about it.

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My rumination might lack a neat conclusion at this early stage of the project, however, the anecdotal information from the meeting in Nain, spurred interest and attention to issues that are not often discussed in the formal fisheries economic literature. Fisheries management in small Arctic communities presents unique challenges which have not been adequately thought through by scholars in the field. Those challenges call for more theoretical work as well as data collection on the socioecological components that drive marine resource use in Northern Labrador.

Special thanks to Rodd Laing (Director of Environment, NG) and Joey Angnatok (local harvester and boat owner) for their contribution to the reflections from the workshop as well as for spending additional time with me and my colleagues to help us better understand the dynamics of marine resource use and management in Labrador. Thanks also to the Torngat Joint Fisheries Board for the invitation to attend.

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