Indigenous knowledge to help identify sustainable arctic fish
When Justin Milton moved to Ottawa five years ago from the arctic community of Pond Inlet on Baffin Island, it was hard to find his favorite fish, Arctic char.
Abundant in arctic waters, salmon-like fish are less common on southern supermarket shelves. Knowing whether it was caught by an Inuit fisherman – and not by an industrial fishing boat – was even more difficult.
“As an urban Inuk, the most important thing for me (is knowing that my fish is) fished in a sustainable way in an indigenous fishery, he said.
This may soon change: Ocean Wise, Canada’s largest sustainable fisheries certifier, announced this month that it will work with Nunavut fishing organizations and Arctic communities to jointly develop a science-based and Inuit sustainability certification Qaujimajatuqangit (IQ, a form of traditional Inuit knowledge). The organization’s label is sought after by hundreds of chefs, seafood wholesalers and environmentally conscious consumers across Canada.
Usually, the organization and other sustainability ranking organizations, such as the Marine Stewardship Council, rely almost exclusively on biological data on the health of fish stocks and the environmental impacts of specific fishing techniques to determine whether a fishery is exploited in a sustainable manner.
Although biologically effective, the approach has been criticized for perpetuating colonialism by excluding indigenous peoples from fisheries management decisions. Costs associated with fisheries and environmental monitoring also make it difficult for smaller Indigenous fishermen to access Canada’s lucrative, sustainable seafood markets – and the culturally relevant economic stability they can offer.
“Indigenous fisheries are probably among the most sustainable in the country, if not the world, but global sustainability ranking programs often exclude them because the ranking frameworks are almost entirely based on Western science, which is financially and logistically difficult to collect in the Arctic, or any other remote community, ”explained Eric Solomon, director of Arctic programs at Ocean Wise.
Ocean Wise wants to certify that small-scale Indigenous fisheries rely on fishing techniques that have minimal environmental impacts, such as hook and line, and are currently harvested well below the maximum levels that Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) judge durable, he said.
Nunavut has a $ 112 million offshore fishery, primarily for turbot and northern shrimp, which is owned by Nunavut hunters and trappers organizations, communities and the Qikiqtani Inuit Association. There is also a much smaller commercial fishery for Arctic char which occurs primarily on rivers and lakes, and some communities have expressed interest in developing other fisheries, such as scallop.
Canada’s largest sustainable fisheries certifier, @OceanWiseSeafd, announced this month that it will work with Nunavut fishing organizations and Arctic communities to jointly develop a sustainability certification. #Fish #Inuit
Yet despite the abundance of fish stocks and interest, the region’s remoteness makes it difficult to expand the territory’s fisheries, explained Jacqueline Chapman, postdoctoral fellow at the School of Public Policy and Administration at the Carleton University which studies Arctic fisheries but is not involved in Ocean Wise. project. There are few processing plants and shipping the catch to markets in southern Canada and elsewhere is expensive. A sustainable harvest label like that of Ocean Wise raises the retail price of fish, generating more income for fishermen. It can also help maintain a stable market, making it easier for businesses and governments to justify investments in fish processing and transportation infrastructure.
In the absence of fishery data for the region, DFO’s fish conservation rules tend to be conservative, she explained, making it difficult for fishermen to catch enough to stay in business. An Ocean Wise label could help improve those profit margins by increasing the value of each fish, she said.
With the region warming rapidly due to climate change, industrial and often private or foreign fishing fleets are monitoring the arctic’s rich fish stocks, said Sophika Kostyniuk, Director of Fisheries and Seafood at Ocean. Wise. The Ocean Wise label – which can generate more local economic benefits than industrial fleets – could help avoid them by making smaller-scale and more sustainable fisheries more profitable for the territory.
But missing fishery data is also a problem when it comes to certifying the sustainability of these small fisheries, Solomon said. DFO does not systematically monitor the population health of the most commercially relevant fisheries in Canada, and many Nunavut fisheries are too small to meet this threshold. In Canada, Ocean Wise relies primarily on DFO data to rank the sustainability of fisheries.
“It’s difficult to get DFO to come in and devote resources to data collection because (these are) so few fisheries, and communities don’t necessarily have the in-house scientific expertise or the funds to do it.” , did he declare. “At the same time, there is a tremendous amount of knowledge and management systems that have been in place for generations in (Nunavut) that we – the southerners who make decisions – have not recognized as valid.
Environmental nonprofits are also guilty of this colonial approach to conservation and sustainable management of resources, he said.
Trying to mend the legacy of injuries and mismanagement left by those officials, researchers and government managers who colonized Nunavut “thinking they could and making decisions for others” prompted Ocean Wise to try to avoid the same mistakes. To do this, the organization is working with Inuit fishermen and their communities to create a new sustainability certification system for the organization that does not rely exclusively on Western standards for sustainability and data collection.
“These processes of assessing what matters as sustainability have typically been developed in the South, primarily with academics and nonprofits keen to do the right thing. We’re all used to saying that we make decisions based on the best science available, (but) there are other ways to get knowledge that can be used for decision making, ”Solomon said, citing IQ for example.
“Arctic science is a relatively young activity and science is slow. We have decisions to make now – raising awareness of how indigenous knowledge can be used to inform decisions, especially at a time when there is not as much scientific data as we would like, this (ability to working with different kinds of knowledge) becomes really important. ”
“There have been a lot of misunderstandings – even trauma – on the part of researchers from the North,” he said, noting that he has been collaborating for several years with Ikaarvik, a program funded by Ocean Wise that helps young Inuit to work as a bridge between their communities and researchers who wish to study in the Arctic.
“(As part of our work) we have made recommendations on what researchers should do before, during and after the research process – and this revolves a lot around Inuit participation, because it is the Inuit who are ultimately affected. (We want to) create a symbiotic relationship between researchers and Inuit so that both get benefits.
Applying this approach to the certification scheme for sustainable fisheries is at the heart of Ocean Wise’s new initiative – but its efforts will not succeed without an open mind. It means conversations about everything from how the process should unfold to what is considered sustainable, Solomon said.
“We’re not saying, ‘This is how it’s going to work’, because it’s not really up to us,” he said.