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Enhancing fisheries co-management in the Eastern Arctic

  • Torngat Wildlife Plants and Fisheries Secretariat
  • Nunavut Wildlife Management Board
  • Nunavik Marine Region Wildlife Board


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70 Northern Public Aairs, November 2019
Jamie Snook, Jason Akearok, & Tommy Palliser, with Ashlee Cunsolo, Carie Hoover, & Megan Bailey
Enhancing sheries co-management in the Eastern Arctic
In January 2019, the three co-management
boards from Nunavut, Nunavik, and Nunat-
siavut gathered together in Happy Valley-Goose
Bay, Labrador, for an unprecedented opportuni-
ty to discuss commercial sheries in the Eastern
Arctic, and decision-making responsibilities of the
Nunavut Wildlife Management Board (NWMB),
Nunavik Marine Region Wildlife Board, and the
Torngat Joint Fisheries Board (TJFB)1. This was
the rst gathering of its kind, and was driven by
the boards’ individual recognition of the essen-
tial need to collaborate across land claim regions
in the Eastern Arctic, to work together for shared
species, and to learn from each other in order
to improve how land claims are implemented
throughout Inuit Nunangat (Inuit homelands).
Access to sheries is a critical necessity and
a determinant of health and wellbeing for Inuit
throughout the four regions of Inuit Nunangat –
Inuvialuit Settlement Region, Nunavut, Nunavik,
and Nunatsiavut (Figure 1) and Inuit access to
sheries is a fundamental concern and major pol-
icy issue. Yet, inequitable policies have limited the
extent to which Inuit peoples and communities
benet from commercial shing opportunities in
Canada, both within and adjacent to their respec-
tive territories. For example, Inuit currently expe-
rience inequitable access limitations, depending
on geographic location, provisions of land claims
agreements, and species of interest, both within
Inuit Nunangat and when compared to southern
interests and access. Current commercial sheries
access for Inuit is also not well documented, cre-
ating the need for North-to-North dialogue and
for interjurisdictional learning about shared chal-
lenges and shared opportunities.
Within this context, participants at this gath-
ering were brought together to discuss strategies
for the implementation of land claims through
co-management boards, to share experiences with
implementation and sheries access, and to learn
from the challenges and successes of the Eastern
Arctic co-management boards. Three key themes
were discussed: the spirit and intent of co-man-
agement as negotiated in land claim agreements,
benets of the shery in Inuit Nunangat, and re-
sponsibilities in research. (See for a video
of the event.)
Theme 1: What is the spirit and intent
of co-management as negotiated in land
claim agreements?
A. A renewed commitment to co-management: “This
is important because we all have common interests.”
It was clear from the gathering of the three East-
ern Arctic co-management boards that more pro-
ductive opportunities between co-managers would
be possible if more time was spent focusing on the
intent of land claim agreements. Inuit co-managers
at the gathering repeatedly made comments about
this, with one person remarking on the need to “pay
more attention to the land claim agreements that
have been signed. Pay more attention to the spirit
and not just the words and interpretation,” and an-
other saying that co-management is “a good process
and the government of Canada should honour the
spirit and intent of why the boards were set up and
not be so literal in their interpretations of these pro-
These interpretational challenges were general-
ly discussed in situations where it was felt that ad-
vice provided by a co-management board was not
thoughtfully considered by the responsible minister.
For example, as one participant shared, “What we
have seen to date is the minister seldom heeds the
advice of the board, and the board rarely hears from
the minister on why a decision was made. To me
71Northern Public Aairs, November 2019
that is not co-management.” Another participant
echoed this sentiment, and explained: “When some-
one acts honourably you don’t question it. You know
it. There is a lot of questioning [of co-management
board decisions and recommendations] and still un-
certainty years after the agreement is signed.”
There was also a sense on the part of some
co-managers at the gathering that, as one person
said, Any good that has come for Indigenous sh-
eries has come from the Supreme Court.” While
recent court cases (Clark & Joe-Strack, 2017) have
suggested that the courts remain an option to settle
disputes related to land claim implementation and
treaty rights, it would be more proactive, cost-e-
cient and respectful if a renewed commitment to
co-management was demonstrated through tangible
policy statements and implementation of co-man-
agement advice. A participant provided an example
of this desire by explaining:
Co-management is about trust and it is about agree-
ments that have been made. In the context of sher-
ies co-management in our region, I believe we have
matured enough to the point now that the Minister
of DFO [Fisheries and Oceans Canada] and others
need to trust that the advice we are giving is well
founded and well researched and a lot of people
have been involved and allow our decisions to stand.
This, to me, is what co-management is: trusting and
having faith that the decisions will work out for the
betterment of those that signed the agreements.
B. Responding to substance with substance: “Canada
set up these boards and should heed advice that comes from
these boards.”
There was consistent dialogue at our gathering
about the responses received by the co-management
boards when their recommendations and/or deci-
sions are provided to the Federal Minister of Fisher-
ies, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard. There
was an overall feeling that well-founded, quality ad-
vice was being provided to the minister, but equally
substantive responses were not being received. This
lack of “responding to substance with substance”
prevents an understanding of ministerial decisions,
limits shared learning opportunities, and dimin-
ishes an authentic sense of co-management. One
co-manager explained that it is important to have
“the federal minister give thoughtful consideration
Map credit: Shawn Rivoire, Torngat Wildlife, Plants and Fisheries Secretariat.
Figure 1: Inuit regions in the Canadian Eastern Arctic and NAFO shing areas.
72 Northern Public Aairs, November 2019
and merit to decisions and recommendations that
come from boards that are established through land
claim agreements,” and that this is essential to sup-
port continued relationships between the co-man-
agement boards and the federal minister. Going
further, another participant indicated that “it’s very
important to understand the underlying concerns
and issues and try to resolve them together.”
C. Having confidence and trust in co-management:
“Trust the wisdom of the people who have been appointed
to these boards.”
The Fisheries Act (2018) in Canada is clear
that the minister has absolute discretion. This
creates challenges for Inuit co-management
boards when recommendations submitted to the
minister are not implemented by the DFO. As
one participant explained, “Canada has the ul-
timate responsibility to manage commercial fish
resources. They haven’t relinquished that author-
ity.” Another individual shared that “ultimately
the minister has all the authority, if the minis-
ter doesn’t like our decision. We have a feedback
loop for the minister to reject our decisions, so is
that co-management?” Going further, one of the
participants at the gathering articulated:
There is an exceptional depth of knowledge
amongst the people who have been appointed
and trust that when they do make advice it’s
good advice, it’s gone through a very thorough
process, and in the end following the recommen-
dations will be to the betterment of those that
have negotiated modern day land claim agree-
Even with such an understanding of jurisdic-
tional powers, there is nothing in the Fisheries
Act that prevents the minister from expressing
confidence in the network of co-management
boards that have matured and are established in
Inuit Nunangat. In other words, just because the
minister has discretionary power, he or she does
not need to use it.
Participants at this gathering agreed that
confidence can be expressed by the Minister
of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast
Guard by allowing the advice and/or decisions
from the NWMB, NMRWB, and the TJFB to
be implemented by departmental officials, or at
least provide a sound rationale for not following
a board decision and/or recommendation. This
step would show openness and transparency and
could be a learning opportunity for all parties
involved. Implementing co-management deci-
sions/recommendations would be the most tan-
gible action possible.
Theme 2: Benefits of the fishery in Inuit
There was a clear understanding on the part of
co-managers and Inuit representative organiza-
tions in this gathering that Inuit should be the
primary beneciaries, benetting fully from sh
within and adjacent to Inuit lands and waters, as
represented by this clear explanation from one
of the participants: “When he [the federal Min-
ister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian
Coast Guard] is allocating resources in an Inuit
region…Inuit [should] be given priority consider-
ation over other interests. We are talking about re-
gions that are adjacent and Inuit should be given
priority in these areas.” Discussion of these issues
with all meeting participants considered a number
of regulations and polices such as the land claim
agreements themselves, the limited socio-econom-
ic opportunities in Inuit Nunangat coastal and re-
mote communities, and DFO policies that support
concepts such as adjacency and facilitating Indig-
enous involvement in commercial sheries (De-
partment of Fisheries and Oceans, 2008; 2012).
The co-management process for each of the
three regions highlights similarities in the co-man-
agement systems, as well as substantive dierenc-
es in processes, shery development histories,
current sheries status, and approaches to plan-
ning for future allocations in each region. Yet all
agreed that, as one participant said, “The oppor-
tunity for Inuit in the commercial shery is pretty
signicant. Greater access, a greater share.”
There were also many comments shared
about viable communities, and the importance
of remembering, as one person remarked, “that
all those resources that are available [to commu-
nities] are necessary to make the communities
sustainable and [it’s important to] work with the
organizations to improve access and the standards
of living. If not, they [the communities] can’t ex-
ist.” These sentiments highlight the connection
to the social determinants of health and how sh
resources can play a vital role in the health and
wellbeing (and food security) of Inuit communi-
ties and individuals.
Theme 3: Responsibilities in research.
Dialogue about research responsibilities was in-
tertwined with discussions related to honouring
73Northern Public Aairs, November 2019
the spirit and intent of co-management agree-
ments contained within land claims agreements.
There were many discussions about the essential
role of research to support evidence-based deci-
sion-making related to fisheries in Inuit Nunan-
gat, but there were a number of questions about
who funds, leads, and benefits from fisheries re-
search. Successful co-management requires ac-
cess to all types of knowledge if co-learning is
going to occur in order to make accurate and
meaningful decisions and or recommendations.
Yet co-management boards are often struggling
to gain access to the needed research to support
their decision-making processes in timely, reli-
able, and transparent ways.
Participants made it clear that there is a fund-
ing and resources gap in Northern science and,
as one attendee explained, the “North is always
served last.” As mentioned above, the DFO has
not relinquished its authority for the management
of fisheries in Canada. Many participants argued
that, as one put it, “Canada has management re-
sponsibility, so it needs to have science responsi-
bility,” meaning that DFO needs to fund research
in the North to support decision-making by fed-
eral and territorial co-managers. Participants ex-
plained that there were examples of DFO-funded
research being discontinued after the settlement
of land claims, despite the continued need for
fisheries data, including a long-standing Arctic
char research program in the Nain Bay region of
Nunatsiavut. Perspectives from the meeting in-
cluded discussing DFO’s responsibility for fund-
ing fisheries science and conducting research re-
lated to Northern needs and priorities. In some
cases, the commercial fishing industry is provid-
ing data to fill science gaps; for example, funds
raised from shrimp allocations are currently used
by DFO to fund northern shrimp science, rath-
er than using government funds. In response, the
Torngat Joint Fisheries Board have continued to
recommend that this shrimp research be funded
by DFO, and the fish allocations be made avail-
able to support and sustain Inuit fishing entities.
In examples where DFO conducted research,
there were concerns raised about the timeliness
of information, accessibility of the information
to co-management boards, and the resources re-
quired for the boards to engage and review the
science for decision-making purposes. Yet fish-
eries management in Inuit Nunangat is not just
about science, with all land claim agreements
making reference to the use of traditional Inu-
it knowledge or Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (IQ) in
decision-making. Financial support should also
be considered to strengthen Inuit traditional
knowledge research initiatives.
It was clear that, as one participant said, the
“boards need science to do their work” and the
co-management boards can play a role in bridg-
ing the gap in Northern fisheries research. There
were benefits associated with co-management-led
research, as one participant pointed out: “Who-
ever needs the information from our area, if they
come to us and ask, they will get a lot more in-
formation than they would on their own.” These
points illustrate the role that co-management
boards may play in research. They highlight that
the “shared space” of co-management is an op-
portunity to enhance the quality and quantity of
research that is conducted. It can ensure that a
single treaty signatory does not hold responsibili-
ty for all facets of research required to sustainably
manage fisheries in the North. Co-management
boards have community connections, experience
integrating different knowledge systems into fish-
eries decisions and recommendations, and fa-
miliarity navigating bureaucracy. They provide
transparent decision processes, based on treaty
mandates to make decisions, and/or provide ad-
vice to the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the
Canadian Coast Guard (Snook, Cunsolo, & Dale,
Discussion and opportunities
The gathering’s success highlights what is possible
when co-management boards meet to share per-
spectives, co-learn, and discuss collective options
that support Inuit livelihoods, self-determination,
and wellness. As one participant said, the gather-
ing was “unique in bringing all the co-manage-
ment boards together for a topic like commercial
fisheries…I think the fact all the boards can come
together and talk together coming from a some-
what unified stance is unique and really interest-
Participants viewed establishment of a new
Arctic Region of the Department of Fisheries
and Oceans as a potential catalyst to repeat a
meeting of all the Inuit co-management boards.
In the fall of 2018, the Government of Canada
and Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami announced that the
new Arctic administrative region of DFO would
be created, which would focus on the regions
covered by Inuit land claims and their respective
co-management boards (Department of Fisher-
ies and Oceans, 2018). There were many per-
spectives shared on this news. While some par-
74 Northern Public Aairs, November 2019
ticipants acknowledged that the co-management
board network had not been engaged prior to the
announcement, there was hope for future oppor-
tunities for Inuit co-management boards to fully
participate in shaping the approach to the new
regional administration’s design.
Anticipating these changes, co-managers at
this gathering thought it would be important that
a DFO Arctic administration have resources com-
parable with the existing regional administrations
in terms of powers, stang, and budgets for re-
search. It was important to participants that an
extra level of bureaucracy not be created if it
would not facilitate co-management in Inuit Nun-
angat, and further burden the existing system.
There are opportunities to enhance sheries
co-management in the Eastern Arctic and more
dialogue and collaboration may be the rst step
in that direction. As one co-manager explained:
I hope that the future includes a lot more trust on
behalf of the mature co-management network
that is there and people will look to these boards
in the future to see what their advice and deci-
sions are going to be, and everyone can have con-
dence that these decisions went through good
process and whatever they end up being they
went through a process that everyone agreed to
and trust[s] and we can move forward together.
As co-management boards in Inuit Nunangat
continue to evolve and mature, they become capa-
ble of handling more responsibilities and further
leading co-management decision-making and pol-
icy implementation in commercial sheries (Inuit
Tapiriit Kanatami, 2017). With decades of prac-
tical co-management experience, each board is
well positioned to play a governance leadership
role in Inuit Nunangat and the Arctic. During a
time when building nation-to-nation relationships
in Canada is of increasing importance (ibid),
all sectors of government may contribute more.
Co-management boards are uniquely positioned
to model innovative relationship building, given
their community connection and frameworks to
understand and respect multiple knowledge sys-
tems. Y
This project was supported by the Social Sciences and Human-
ities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). The preceding paper
paper is a condensed version of the full perspectives paper that was
submitted to SSHRC for the National Gathering on Strengthening
Indigenous Research Capacity.
Jamie Snook is Executive Director, Torngat Joint Fisher-
ies Board.
Jason Akearok is Executive Director, Nunavut Wildlife
Management Board.
Tommy Palliser is Executive Director, Nunavik Marine
Region Wildlife Board.
Ashlee Cunsolo is Director, Labrador Institute of Memo-
rial University.
Carie Hoover is Postdoctoral Fellow, Dalhousie Univer-
Megan Bailey is Canada Research Chair in Integrated
Ocean and Coastal Governance & Assistant Professor,
Dalhousie University.
Clark, D. & Joe-Strack, J. (2017). Keeping the “co” in the
co-management of Northern resources. Northern
Public Affairs, 5(1).
Department of Fisheries and Oceans (2008). New access
framework. Retrieved from Fisheries and Oceans Canada:
Department of Fisheries and Oceans (2012). An integrated
Aboriginal policy framework. Retrieved from Fisheries
and Oceans Canada:
Department of Fisheries and Oceans (2018). Fisheries
and Oceans Canada, the Canadian Coast Guard and
Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami announce new Arctic Region.
Retrieved from Fisheries and Oceans Canada: https://
Fisheries Act (R.S.C., 1985, c. F-14). 2018.
Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (2017). Inuit Nunangat Declara-
tion On Inuit-Crown Partnership. Ottawa: Inuit Tapiriit
Snook, J., Cunsolo, A., & Dale, A. (2018). Co-management
led research and sharing space on the pathway to Inuit
self-determination in research. Northern Public Affairs,
1. These three boards provide advice to the Minister of
Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, and
in the case of the NWMB and the NMRWB, they make
co-jurisdictional decisions with Fisheries and Oceans Can-
ada (DFO) within their respective land claim settlement re-
gions. The boards have many fish species in common such
as Greenland halibut, northern shrimp, snow crab, and
Arctic char, and each of these fish stocks have significant
impacts on the economy and local livelihoods in each Inuit
... Co-management represents a notable departure to how most fisheries are managed in the south, but it does not go far enough in recognizing and respecting Inuit decisions and recommendations in fisheries management. 9 In fact, in some places the Land Claims Agreements themselves prevent commercialization of traditional or country foods, limiting self-government over marine food production and sale. 7 Working with Indigenous Peoples, Canada has the constitutional obligation to recognize the rights of Indigenous Peoples and to work to support self-government over fish for Inuit in the Arctic and Subarctic. ...
... In many cases, these allocations fall short of achieving DFO's own adjacency principle, whereby those who are adjacent to the resource are those who most benefit from access to it. Calls to redirect access via quota allocation have come from the three eastern Arctic co-management boards, 9 for example, with equity outcomes being modeled under increasing allocation schemes. 10 In a similar vein, improved access to means of production and markets, 11 including infrastructure, is necessary, as access to fish alone is insufficient to benefit from it. ...
... Respect for and real efforts (including provision of funding) to transition to an Inuit knowledge paradigm to lead in the research, management, conservation, and use of marine resources is necessary. 9 For example, youth from four Nunavut communities worked as part of a team to develop a set of 45 recommendations around how researchers can incorporate Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (a particular form of Inuit Knowledge and way of life specific to Nunavut), to do science and research in a meaningful way. 13 Fish and food: Repositioning the fisheries-climate change nexus in the Arctic as a food-climate change nexus means fisheries and food policies need better coherence. ...
In a recent paper published in Current Biology, McLean et al. described the loss of cold-affinity species as a conservation issue for fished Arctic marine ecosystems. Here, we argue that listening to and working with local Indigenous Peoples is essential to manage potential impacts and support their adaptation to such changes.
... Inuit hunters are harvesting Arctic char since time immemorial and are traditional knowledge holders. Scientists studying fish population have worked advantageously with Inuit hunters for data collection (Bell and Harwood 2012) and Inuit knowledge is more and more considered in fisheries management (Moller et al., 2004;Snook et al., 2019). Since Inuit knowledge is accumulated from the past but also an evolving and current knowledge Usher 2000), it allows to identify environmental change and trends, including changes in abundance when quantitative data were limited (Knopp et al., 2012;Janjua et al., 2016;Falardeau et al., 2022). ...
... Despite the importance of Indigenous Peoples' fisheries in Canada, there is little statistical data available on their economic contributions. Further, centuries of fisheries colonialism and injustice evolving into government policies that limited the access of inshore fisheries, including small scale Indigenous Peoples' fisheries, but favoured the offshore trawler industry (Matthews, 1995), as well as legal conflict between Indigenous fishers and the State has resulted in historical and present day inequities in the fishing sector [30,37], which require reconciliation and reparations [43,44]. ...
Full-text available
Commercial fishing supports coastal communities around the world and fishing livelihoods are often interwoven into local societies, including culture, identity, knowledges, and economies, particularly for many Indigenous Peoples globally. Through a case study with co-management board members in Nunatsiavut, Labrador, Canada, we explore how access to commercial fisheries is a determinant of Inuit well-being. Interviews with fisheries co-managers were conducted and analysed deductively and inductively using a conceptual well-being framework to characterize the ways in which commercial fisheries intersect with Inuit well-being. Our results highlight how commercial fisheries in Nunatsiavut have been a longstanding way of life, with multiple familial connections, and are interwoven with the social, economic, and political components of Indigenous culture and identity. Participants described how the fishing livelihood in Nunatsiavut was put at risk due to overfishing by foreign fleets who exploited Inuit waters during the cod fishery’s formative years. Extensive narrative about fisher committees and community organizing highlighted how political participation and self-determination efforts in the 1970 s led to a measure of sustainability through new Northern Shrimp access. Despite periodic success stories, the Inuit commercial fishery remains in a social struggle. The results show how the fishery has continued with multiple injustices and forms of inequity. The combination of events over time, shared through stories, highlight that these small-scale Inuit fisheries were subject to ocean grabbing or ocean dispossession. Based on these results, future research that facilitates an Inuit vision of Nunatsiavut’s fishing sector is critical, and reclamation policies that facilitate new pathways forward for reconciliation to centre Inuit well-being are needed. Furthermore, these results illustrate how Inuit identified well-being indicators could be adopted for immediate baseline monitoring and to measure progress.
Full-text available
Increasingly there is recognition of the need for new governance and decision-making models in natural resource management that uphold the rights and knowledge systems of Indigenous peoples. These models would support access to and sovereignty over natural resources including fisheries and wild harvested foods. However, research in northern Indigenous communities continually focuses on country foods and subsistence harvests and does not consider the important role of commercial fisheries. It is key to investigate how Inuit cultures and commercial fisheries are linked to understand how fisheries governance should be directed. Through an iterative interview process, we identify values and principles held by Labrador Inuit fishers and fisheries managers regarding the commercial fishing industry, outlining an interconnected set of values that ground how Labrador Inuit relate to the fisheries today. Drawing on the literature, we contrast the current fisheries management paradigm with the values that arise from this study. By identifying and articulating a system of values held by Labrador Inuit in relation to the commercial fishing industry, we articulate a set of principles to inform a desirable and just future for commercial fisheries. This represents a new conceptual model for Inuit commercial fisheries, one that speaks to the resilience of Labrador Inuit, and frames the industry as having value beyond its material dimensions, to include political self-determination, traditional use, and cultural identity.
Full-text available
Inuit in the Circumpolar North are closely tied to the lands, waters, and wildlife, which underpin livelihoods, food, cultural continuity, and well-being. Co-management institutions in Canada— arising from Inuit treaties—were created to increase the inclusion of Inuit voices and Inuit knowledge in recommendations about wildlife management. Co-management decisions have important implications for Inuit well-being; however, research has yet to explicitly explore how co-management decisions can enhance and impact Inuit well-being. Therefore, this dissertation research characterized how wildlife co-management impacts well-being in Inuit Nunangat. An Indigenous co-management-led research approach was used, which drew from decolonizing methodologies, boundary work theory, and community-based research principles. First, systematic critical review methods uncovered no publications that explicitly analysed co- management from a health or well-being lens; however, social determinants of health were implicit and prevalent in the literature. Responding to this research gap, data were then collected through conversational research interviews with co-management practitioners throughout Inuit Nunangat (n=21 interviews), and with Inuit in Nunatsiavut (n=21 interviews). Qualitative data were deductively and inductively analysed using a constant comparative method and thematic analysis. Co-management practitioners described how co-management institutions can act as boundary work organizations and how the social determinants of health could be integrated inside the shared space of co-management. Nunatsiavut Inuit underscored the importance of considering the determinants of health in co-management decision-makingprocesses. For instance, Inuit explained how historic conservation management decisions had disrupted important connections among caribou and Inuit, particularly related to food , culture, and well-being; the socio-cultural and emotional impacts of the criminalization of an important cultural practice, as well as perceived inequities in wildlife conservation enforcement; and the frustration, anger, and hurt they experienced with not being heard or included in caribou management decisions. Similarly, Inuit reflected on how commercial fisheries remain a social struggle with multiple injustices, and identified opportunities for Inuit well-being indicators to be integrated into baseline monitoring and to measure progress. These results provide insights into experiences of historic and ongoing colonial wildlife management decisions, and highlight future directions for co-management initiatives—emphasising the health and well-being of Inuit and wildlife.
Keeping the "co" in the co-management of Northern resources
  • D Clark
  • J Joe-Strack
Clark, D. & Joe-Strack, J. (2017). Keeping the "co" in the co-management of Northern resources. Northern Public Affairs, 5(1).