I’m preparing to head out onto the ice with Dr. Peter de Groot, a researcher from Queens University, and some very skilled and knowledgeable hunters from the community of Gjoa Haven, Nunavut. Peter’s drilling holes into the ice in order to lower different kinds of fishing gear as part of a study to assess what kinds of fish and crustaceans (crabs and their kin) are in the area and in what abundance.
I’ll be using the holes to lower a device (called a CTD – Conductivity, Temperature and Depth) that measures a number of physical and biological factors in the seawater, from the surface to the bottom. It’s part of the Canadian Rangers Ocean Watch (CROW) program. I blogged about CROW last time we were in Gjoa Haven, and you can read about that program here.
Peter’s fisheries project is being conducted in partnership with the Hamlet of Gjoa Haven, and it’s important work. Most of us living in the south are fortunate enough not to have to worry where our next meal will come from. The markets aren’t likely to run out of food and if it’s not found locally it can be brought in at reasonably affordable prices.
That’s not the case in Canada’s most northern communities. I’ve been in these communities when the annual sealift – the ship that brings the dry goods – has been unable to get to the community and weather has grounded flights in, leaving the markets with virtually no food. The food that is available year round is usually either nutritionally lacking, expired, tremendously expensive or an unfortunate combination of all three.
For many in these communities, local wildlife, known as country foods, is a more reliable and more nutritious source of sustenance. But the Arctic environment is changing rapidly, and with that change comes uncertainty about the impacts on Arctic wildlife. How will different species respond? What are the potential impacts of increased human activity – tourism, resource extraction and shipping – on these animals? What about increased pollution?
All of these factors impact local food security. But before we can answer these questions, we need to understand what’s there, where it is and in what abundance, among many other things.
Food security and economic security are very closely related and interdependent, and information about species abundance may also provide the basis for development of a sustainable local commercial fishery. The key word there is “sustainable” – ecologically and economically. After all, an ecologically unsustainable fishery is an economically unsustainable fishery. Without strong baseline data, we cannot confidently say any fishery is sustainable.
This project is a good example of how local knowledge and scientific techniques can work together to address issues of local concern, and I’m thrilled to be coming along.
So, for four days we’ll travel up the eastern coast of King William Island by snowmobile looking for fish and testing fishing methods while I take advantage of the holes in the ice to lower my CTD. I’ll check back in when we return.
Bye for now from beautiful Gjoa Haven, Nunavut.
Blog post written by Eric Solomon, Vancouver Aquarium’s director of Arctic Connections. For the next couple of weeks, Eric is in Gjoa Haven, Nunavut and traveling along the eastern coast of King William Island with the Canadian Rangers Ocean Watch to collect important data about our oceans as part of the Ikaarvik: Barriers to Bridges program.