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Sustained and diversified

Determining the key to a successful shrimp fishery in Nunatsiavut

special feature: COASTS

Part of a special feature showcasing Memorial's leadership and expertise in cold ocean and Arctic science, technology and society (COASTS).

By Melanie Callahan

A Grenfell Campus political economist is working with a research team to determine what shrimp allocations actually mean for the economic viability of a region.

Dr. Paul Foley had previously conducted research on the northern shrimp fishery with a focus on the impact of allocation policies on socio-economic development on Fogo Island, the Great Northern Peninsula and Southeast Labrador. Now, he is working in Northern Labrador.

Dr. Paul Foley
Photo: David Howells

“From that work, we learned that people in Northern Labrador were engaged in the shrimp fishery through, for example, licences held by the Torngat Fish Producers Co-operative Society Ltd. and special allocations held by the Nunatsiavut Government. There was, however, very little documentation on the impact of shrimp allocation policies for regional development outcomes.”

Multi-campus collaboration

Dr. Foley is a professor in the Environmental Policy Institute. His research partners are Drs. Barbara Neis and Charles Mather of Memorial’s St. John’s campus.

The research will help inform policy about future allocation decisions by improving the understanding of the social development consequences of allocation policies, says Dr. Foley.

“Shrimp populations are in decline in major fishing areas and apparently shifting north due to complex oceanic and ecosystem changes.” — Dr. Paul Foley

It will also provide broader lessons about how future policies might incorporate social development objectives in the shrimp fishery and other fisheries.

“The shrimp fishery is in a state of crisis and fundamental change,” Dr. Foley said.

“Shrimp populations are in decline in major fishing areas and apparently shifting north due to complex oceanic and ecosystem changes. Some groups have had their allocations to shrimp reduced dramatically and thousands of jobs and livelihoods are at risk.”

One vessel’s shrimp catch.
Photo: Submitted

Fisheries policy and regional development

The work is part of a larger research program examining the relationship between fisheries policy and regional development in Atlantic Canada’s northern shrimp fisheries.

For several decades, federal policy-makers have allocated shrimp licences and quotas to co-operatives, community-based organizations, inshore fish harvesters and large fishing companies, as well as Indigenous groups.

However, knowledge of the relationship between fisheries policy and regional development outcomes in this fishery remains very limited, says Dr. Foley.

“The research findings help us meet two further practical objectives: to provide research evidence to inform policy-making and decision-making and to assist regional bodies and community groups in their activities aimed at improving social, economic, cultural and environmental conditions.”

Shrimp ready for processing.
Photo: Submitted

The Torngat Secretariat, located in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, is a partner in the research, providing financing and facilitating engagement opportunities at its annual fisheries workshop for some of the primary research and through research dissemination and mobilization once the project’s report is complete.

The Torngat Joint Fisheries Board makes annual northern shrimp management recommendations to the minister of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, says Jamie Snook, executive director, Torngat Secretariat.

“This research now gives all of the co-management partners an excellent historical overview of this fishery’s development,” said Mr. Snook. “It highlights the vital socio-economic importance and gives insight into how this fishery helps with other fisheries such as turbot, crab and Arctic char. There are important recommendations that co-management partners may consider in the future.”

The research empowers those involved in the co-management of the shrimp fishery with new information that is contextual and allows for the best possible recommendations for the betterment of Inuit within the Labrador Inuit Land Claims Agreement, and all Canadians, Mr. Snook says.

Sustained, strengthened and diversified

The research suggests that a collaborative approach between licence holders will provide the best chance for sustainable fishery development.

For the people of Nunatsiavut, the economic and social future will likely shine brighter if their attachment to marine resources is sustained, strengthened and diversified as environmental conditions change, Dr. Foley says. This doesn’t come without challenges, however.

It has been established that land claims are important factors in securing shrimp allocations, but interpretive disagreements about jurisdiction over provisions have emerged. There are also environmental challenges in operating a commercial fishery in Nunatsiavut, including a short inshore fishing season, extreme weather conditions and storage and transportation issues.

A problem with lack of available workers continues to plague the fishery, as well, yet the fishery continues to support significant employment in the region. Allocation holders there have mandates to use shrimp resources to benefit local people, but struggles with supporting both socially beneficial activities and financially viable activities.

Key recommendations from Dr. Foley and his team include advancing government relations; developing a comprehensive, co-ordinated northern fisheries strategy; enhancing labour relations, conditions and opportunities to support workers; and enhancing the capacity for future collaboration.

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