Adam Ukuttunuaq

Adam Ukuttunuaq from Gjoa Haven setting flexible shrimp pots through the sea ice as part of the exploratory fish work near Gjoa Haven. (Credit I. Tavolik)

A new sustainable fishery project launched by researchers from two Ontario universities is trying to help solve the food crisis in Nunavut, as well as create new jobs and stimulate the economy.

Queen's University in partnership with researchers from Carleton University have received $5.6M from Genome Canada as well as other organizations towards this research and initiative.   

"Our goal in collaboration with the communities, is to get sufficient fish, both Arctic char and Arctic cod and northern shrimp for the people of the communities," says Queen University's Virginia Walker, one of the scientists heading the project.

"Sufficient so that they'll be able to have a commercial product to sell as well."

Walker says the project can only be sustainable if it helps to stimulate the local economy.  

Fisherman from Gjoa Haven

Fisherman from Gjoa Haven learning how to use longlines with the help of colleagues from Pangnirtung. (S. Sowdlooapik)

"If we really want a fishery that's sustainable and can serve the people in the communities, they also need cash in order to buy things like snow machines and finishing equipment."

In order to locate the fish, Walker and her team analyze seal feces to determine which fish stock they are eating.  

"One can't just go in blindly and pull out the fish," says Walker.

She says through their lab work they collect and analyze the DNA of the available fish population to avoid depleting the stock. An important part of this work involves locating the available fish. Walker says the project depends on collaboration with the local communities and government.

Traditional knowledge

"The community is really important to us. They have traditional ecological knowledge of the area," she adds, "We're talking geography that's as big as the U.K."

That includes the traditional knowledge of hunters and fishermen.

"A lot of it is going to be coming from the elders from our area here, including the other outlining communities," says William Aglukkaq, the office manager for the Gjoa Haven Hunters and Trappers Association.

The project aims to create employment through the fishery and the tourism industry.

"The basic thing we're trying to do is create employment through the fisheries and the tourism industry," says Aglukkaq.

The project is also working with the Nunavut Arctic College to train their researchers to identify various fish through their DNA.  

Both Walker and Aglukkaq say the local community has been open to this work. That's because of the community's awareness that the climate is changing, the ice is thinning, unemployment rates are rising, and the cost of food is increasing, all facts that point to the need for more sustainable approach to fishing.  

"Community members are quick to embrace this, there really needs to be new methods, perhaps modern methods of fishing more on the open waters than perhaps on the ice," says Walker.