Nunavut communities to see donated shrimp, turbot, despite struggling fishery

Nunavummiut families in need will have seafood in their freezers this winter.

Pandemic funding to prevent food waste used to redistribute seafood to those in need

David Alexander is vice chairperson for the Amaruq Hunters and Trappers Association. He is pictured here organizing the offloading of around 1,000 boxes of cooked and frozen Nunavut shrimp to be given to communities by Baffin Fisheries. (Beth Brown/CBC)

Nunavummiut families in need will have seafood in their freezers this winter. 

Hunters in Iqaluit offloaded nearly five tonnes of cooked and frozen northern shrimp at the community's breakwater on Wednesday. The pallets of shrimp were shuttled by small boats from the Baffin Fisheries factory freezer vessel Sivulliq.

That's around 1,000 boxes of shrimp at five kilograms per box. 

In Pangnirtung, around 18.6 tonnes of frozen turbot from Pangnirtung Fisheries Ltd. that didn't fit on the sealift this year will be shared with communities as well until March of next year. 

It was lightly snowing at the breakwater Wednesday morning when workers were bringing in the shrimp. They were lifted down from the Sivulliq with a large crane. None of the vessel crew were able to come in contact with the Iqaluit workers because of COVID-19 restrictions. 

"It's an exciting moment, seeing the first pallet, dropping it off to Nunavut, in Iqaluit, shrimp being caught in Nunavut waters," says David Alexander, vice chair for the Amaruq Hunters and Trappers Association.

He led the relay of three boats. It took just over an hour to bring all the shrimp to shore. It's in cold storage now at the hunters and trappers building.

"Once a distribution has been decided, on when it will be, you'll probably see a good number, a few hundred people, coming to pick up free shrimp," he said. 

These boxes of frozen shrimp are being given to people in need. Each box weighs five kilograms. They are cooked and packaged on board a factory freezer vessel. (Beth Brown/CBC)

The hunters and trappers association will distribute the shrimp to communities throughout the Qikiqtaaluk region. Low income families will be given priority.

The seafood means a lot for food security in Nunavut, says Alexander.

The Amaruq Hunters and Trappers Association is a shareholder of Baffin Fisheries. 

Nunavut fishery loses money during pandemic

The seafood comes through a COVID-19 funding program meant to reduce food waste related to the pandemic. 

Usually, shrimp and turbot from Nunavut are sold to markets in Asia. But this year, because of the pandemic, shrimp prices have dropped by 25 per cent and turbot prices by 15 per cent. So the product, which costs a lot to procure and process, is largely being sold at a loss, says Chris Flanagan, CEO of Baffin Fisheries. 

For the turbot in Pangnirtung, money is also lost when the processed product is shipped by air. 

"This is a fantastic product, especially the turbot, it's such a delicious fish but because the Chinese have been consuming it a lot longer, they're used to it and they pay a higher price, so it ends up going to China," he said. 

It's costing around $300,000 to make the food sharing happen, and all but 20 per cent of that is being paid by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada through its Surplus Food Rescue Program. The money gave Baffin Fisheries the option of bringing the 62-metre Sivilluq and it's 28 crew to Iqaluit, and pay the hunters who used their boats to ferry the pallets between the vessel and shore. 

For a vessel that can store up to 440 tonnes of shrimp, five tonnes isn't that much to the fishery, but it's a lot to offload and store, and a lot of protein for communities, says Flanagan. 

Small vessels are shuttling pallets of frozen shrimp to the breakwater, where they are lifted by a crane. (Beth Brown/CBC)

Nunavut seafood to be enjoyed in territory

It's not actually that common for Nunavummiut to be able to eat the shrimp and turbot that comes off these vessels, he said. Usually the large frozen boxes are offloaded in Newfoundland or in Greenland, so the seafood would have to be sent back to Nunavut to be sold for regular customers.

"We can't easily bring the product to Nunavut," Flanagan said, because there is no place for the large fishing vessel to dock and Iqaluit is not near the fishing grounds. 

That's a lot of tasty shrimp packed away in cold storage. (Submitted by David Alexander)

"Hopefully this will kick start a Nunavut distribution program," he said.  

In his company pitch to access the funding, which prioritizes fresh food, Flanagan said he told the government it was a way to help the North.

"This was all done in the North, this is a great product from Nunavut waters, harvested and processed in Nunavut with Inuit workers and distributed to people who really need it," he said.

The factory freezer vessel Sivulliq offloading in Greenland on Sept. 30, 2020. (Submitted by Baffin Fisheries)


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