The following is the established format for referencing this article:Cadman, R., J. Snook, J. Gilbride, J. Goudie, K. Watts, A. Dale, M. Zurba, and M. Bailey. 2023. Labrador Inuit resilience and resurgence: embedding Indigenous values in commercial fisheries governance. Ecology and Society 28(2):11.
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.
As climate change has opened greater access to the Arctic, there has been growing interest in developing the industries that make use of Arctic marine waters, including marine shipping, oil and gas exploration, and commercial fisheries (Tai et al. 2019). In many cases, however, the benefits from these industries continue to prioritize southern enterprises over local peoples (Kourantidou et al. 2021). With rapid change on the horizon for Arctic communities, it is essential that communities have an opportunity to articulate what a desirable and equitable future would look like for them. One sector that is ripe for equitable transformation is the commercial fishing industry. However, research in northern Indigenous communities tends to focus on country foods and subsistence harvests without considering 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.
Many Inuit communities consider commercial fisheries to be vital for economic, social, and cultural well-being in Inuit Nunangat (the Inuit homelands across what is now Canada; Snook et al. 2019). Given their experience with community-led management initiatives, relationships to the marine environment, and ability to access and use multiple knowledge systems for governance, Inuit communities are uniquely placed to create new, innovative models for resource governance (Snook et al. 2019). Additionally, land claim agreements (sometimes called “modern treaties”) across Inuit Nunangat, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), a nation-to-nation mandate within the department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), and the DFO principle of adjacency all speak to the necessity for priority resource access for Inuit communities (UN General Assembly 2007, Foley et al. 2015, Fisheries and Oceans Canada 2019).
Despite advances made by Inuit for the recognition of their rights, power imbalances remain in resource management. Increasingly scholars are identifying that settler colonialism is at the root of fisheries management in North America and in the Arctic (McMillan and Prosper 2016, Todd 2018, Kuokkanen 2020, Bernauer 2022, Parlow 2022, Silver et al. 2022, Snook et al. 2022). Settler colonialism is described as a system of power, informed by the particular obligations, expectations, and relationships of Western society (Alfred and Corntassel 2005, Liboiron 2021). Settler colonialism continues to exert power over Indigenous peoples to disconnect them from their relationships to the land and to disavow their own systems of governance (Tuck and Yang 2012, Todd 2018). Understanding contemporary fisheries governance through this lens, we recognize that if we are to build just and equitable fisheries governance that uphold the rights and knowledge systems of Indigenous peoples, we need to understand how communities relate to and value those fisheries (McGregor 2018, Whyte 2018). In this paper we detail the steps taken to identify a cluster of values held by Inuit regarding the commercial fisheries in Nunatsiavut, a land claim in northern Labrador, Canada. These values are articulated as an essential step in a broader visioning project to articulate ideal futures for the commercial fishing industry.
In Nunatsiavut, fisheries are a vital source of economic development, cultural preservation, and community well-being. Snook et al. (2022) found that the participation in the commercial fisheries is considered a “way of life,” one that dates back hundreds of years, demonstrating the significance of the industry to Labrador Inuit. The fishing industry is an economic driver, supporting hundreds of jobs and livelihoods for the region (Foley et al. 2017). Despite the clear importance of the industry for the land claim area, fisheries in Nunatsiavut are currently managed with a focus on problem-specific planning, while policy interventions redirect most benefits of adjacent marine resources outside of the region (Kourantidou et al. 2021, Snook et al. 2019, 2022). In this way, northern fisheries policy fails Inuit in part because the Canadian government’s mandates are determined outside of communities and do not focus on holistic, long-term governance.
While Nunatsiavut’s fishing industry is under a colonial governance regime, Labrador Inuit are not able to advance sovereignty over natural resources. We therefore propose that it is important to rethink fisheries governance in the region from the ground up, and ask: what values and principles do Labrador Inuit harvesters and managers hold in relation to the commercial fishing industry, and what are the implications of those values for the way that fisheries are governed in the region? This study aims to articulate Labrador Inuit values to inform a vision for a desirable and just future for commercial fisheries.
The fact that governance remains couched in Western institutions and upholds colonial values and priorities for management impedes Indigenous peoples’ progress toward self-determination. To rebuild fisheries governance for the benefit of Inuit communities, it is necessary to build beyond the existing systems and consider new institutions built on Inuit ways of knowing (Todd 2018). Building Inuit futures for fisheries requires an articulation of the values and perceptions that could underpin fisheries management in the region.
Before speaking to the study, we provide a brief explanation of how the authors of this text are connected to northern Labrador. The data in this paper were collected as part of a larger research project to articulate a vision for the future of the commercial fishing industry in Nunatsiavut. The need for this project, and the research questions devised to support it, originated with a group of fishing industry organizations in Nunatsiavut: The Torngat Joint Fisheries Board (the fisheries co-management board for the land claim area), the Torngat Fish Producers Cooperative Society Ltd. (a cooperative that holds licenses and manages processing within Nunatsiavut), and the Nunatsiavut Government (the land claim government). These three organizations jointly own the data, and leaders from these organizations are included as authors of this paper as the group who designed the research questions that motivate this project. To execute the research, these organizations recruited help from researchers at Dalhousie University, including the first author, who conducted this research as part of her PhD work. A community member was recruited to assist with data collection and interpretation of results and is also an author on this paper. We bring a combination of academic, practitioner, and lived experience on Inuit fisheries governance to this research.
Fishing in northern Labrador
Nunatsiavut is a land claim area located in northern Labrador, Canada (Fig. 1). It is the homeland of Labrador Inuit. The Labrador Inuit Land Claim Agreement (LILCA) was signed in 2005 between the Canadian federal government, the provincial government of Newfoundland and Labrador, and the Labrador Inuit Association (LIA). Although the final agreement was signed in 2005, the LIA was originally formed in 1973 as a mechanism to organize and advance a land claim agreement on behalf of Labrador Inuit. Under the LILCA, LIA was dissolved, and the Nunatsiavut Government was created, which serves all beneficiaries of the agreement.
Beginning with first contact with Basque whale hunters in the 1760s and Moravian missionaries in the 1770s, Labrador Inuit have been connected to Western trade routes and participated in commercial fishing for hundreds of years. A literature review by the Torngat Wildlife, Plants and Fisheries Secretariat identified 14 commercial fisheries throughout the history of northern Labrador: seven of those fisheries were initiated locally, by Inuit and permanent settlers in the area, and the other seven instituted by external forces (such as government and the expansion of southern fisheries; Mills et al. 2018). Their report notes that although there is strong evidence of Indigenous involvement in the commercial fisheries throughout the post-contact period, this does not extend to having control over the management. Everything from whales, seals, and walruses to Atlantic cod, scallop, and Atlantic salmon have been caught and sold in the region. The stock collapses of the 1980s and 1990s hit the region hard, and the Atlantic cod (Ogak; Gaus morhua), Arctic char (iKaluk; Salvelinus alpinus), and Atlantic salmon (kavisilik; Salmo salar) fisheries were shut down during this time, leaving many in the region without employment. At the same time, the industry began to pivot toward offshore fisheries.
In 1980, the first Northern shrimp (kingupvak; Pandalus borealis) license was granted to the Torngat Fish Producers Cooperative (known as the Torngat Coop). Since then, additional licenses have been distributed to the Coop, and the Nunatsiavut Group of Companies received an offshore shrimp license in partnership with a group of companies in 1991. More recently, the Nunatsiavut Government was granted a communal Northern shrimp license to enable the harvest of shrimp inshore (Foley et al. 2017). Between these organizations, Labrador Inuit have access to fishing for Northern shrimp, Snow crab (putjotik; Chionoecetes opilio), Greenland halibut (turbot; Reinhardtius hippoglossoides), Arctic char, and Iceland scallop (matsojak; Chlamys islandica). Today, only Arctic char and scallop fisheries have any overlap between commercial and subsistence fisheries, with community members regularly collecting these species as part of their country food, however, this paper focuses on commercial fisheries as a specific industry, and only considers subsistence harvesting insofar as it may affect the commercial fishery.
The Torngat Coop leases their offshore Northern shrimp quota to an offshore operator located in Nova Scotia, and uses the profits to fund their operations, which include running two processing plants on the coast and running a scallop fishing boat. The Nunatsiavut Government holds communal commercial licenses, which means it distributes quota from its licenses to beneficiaries who have applied to receive a percentage of the quota. This is referred to as the “designate program,” which helps to ensure that individuals in the communities of Nunatsiavut benefit directly from the licenses. Nunatsiavut Group of Companies owns half of a shrimp license, which is harvested by a partner organization and for which NGC receives royalties.
Values-based fisheries governance
In order to create equitable and just fisheries governance in the Arctic, we must consider the significance of commercial fisheries for Inuit communities. Equity is defined in terms of three dimensions: recognition (respect of Indigenous knowledge, values, and priorities); procedure (the process of management and decision making); and distribution (the way costs and benefits are distributed; Adeyeye et al. 2019). In this research we focus on this first dimension, recognition, which emphasizes the context; culture, knowledge, language, history are all important considerations for the creation of equitable resource governance (Quimby and Levine 2018).
Thus, an equitable future for Inuit fisheries must acknowledge the role that values play in fisheries governance. Although values are defined in many ways across the literature, we follow the interpretation laid out in Song et al. (2013), in which they develop “common value types” for fisheries governance. Common value types are defined as both the fundamental beliefs held by individuals about the fisheries, and the meaning, merits, or benefits that individuals assign to the fishery. Studying values provides insight into how people perceive the world, and how they make decisions (Alessa et al. 2010).
In recent years, there has been interest in the role that values can play in transformational governance. The International Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) released a report in 2019 arguing that the planet is headed for biodiversity and climate crises that can only be addressed if humans change the values that currently guide environmental management (IPBES 2019). Values play an integral role in how we understand systems, choose pathways, set goals, and measure success (Fazey et al. 2020, Wyborn et al. 2021, Horcea-Milcu et al. 2022). Studying the attitudes and motivations of diverse stakeholder groups can contribute toward understanding conflicts over resource use, and potentially lessen the effects of complex problems (Armitage et al. 2012). Values provide a framework that guides how decision makers respond to threats, so understanding a community’s values can also lead to governance approaches based on justice and equity (Sowman and Wynberg 2014, Armitage et al. 2017, Raymond et al. 2022)
Less well-explored, however, is how value systems arise from culture, and the effect that this can have on governance. This is an important distinction because cultural values are derived from discrete paradigms for understanding the world. We refer to these paradigms as “knowledge systems.” All governance models are built on a knowledge system. Knowledge systems are developed through a peoples’ history, socialization, cosmology, and even language, and dictate the ways that we understand and interpret the world around us, develop values, norms, and institutions (Whyte 2018, Wilson et al. 2019).
Examining the values in a fisheries governance system can give some insight into how priorities are set. Currently, DFO has designed fisheries governance across Canada as a Western knowledge system, which can be described as a colonial paradigm (Snook et al. 2019). There are many examples of this management paradigm manifesting in contemporary fisheries management. Silver et al. (2022), for example, demonstrate how maximum sustainable yield, a formula used to calculate how much of a fish stock can be removed from the water, was developed according to the values and priorities of a settler colonial paradigm: the separation of an ecosystem into individual species, the exclusively economic valuation of fish, the assumption of power and control over the marine environment (Silver et al. 2022). Liboiron (2021) reflects on the failures of the colonial paradigm in the cod collapse in Newfoundland and Labrador in the 1980s and 1990s, one that valued short-term economic gains over ecosystem health or community well-being and relied on a limited and siloed statistical model (Liboiron 2021). Lee et al. (2019) demonstrate that the centralized governance structure of fisheries governance in British Columbia had direct consequences for the management of abalone, risking the extinction of this fish that is a cultural keystone species for the Haida nation. Snook et al. (2018) record Inuit leaders from across the north discussing the ways that the federal government fails to honor the spirit of land claim agreements in decentralizing power over fisheries governance, while Bernauer (2022) notes that this practice is an exercise in internal colonialism that prevents Nunavut commercial fisheries from seeing the benefits of an expanding industry (Snook et al. 2018). In Nunatsiavut, Kourantidou et al. (2021) and Foley et al. (2017) note that despite the fact that for years the Torngat Joint Fisheries Board has called for increased access to quotas in the waters adjacent to Nunatsiavut, DFO has continued to refuse this recommendation, limiting equitable allocation of the resource.
We pull three important characteristics from the literature, including the texts above, that help to illuminate some of the qualities that guide the ways decisions are made and goals are set in the fisheries today:
- A species-specific framework for management, in which each species is managed individually, which largely disregards the social and ecological connections of each species to one another and the environment (Murray et al. 2006);
- A neoliberal valuation of the fisheries, which considers individual economic profit as the top priority for fisheries management (Thornton and Hebert 2015);
- A top-down hierarchical structure that amasses power within the state (Alessa et al. 2010, Quimby and Levine 2018).
These characteristics are not meant to be, as Tuck and Yang (2012:5) wrote, “exhaustive or even inarguable,” but instead are themes that we see arise continuously in the literature on the intersection of commercial fisheries and settler colonialism. The characteristics described here consist of the values seen in a colonial paradigm, which affects how managers make decisions about the fisheries, prioritizing bureaucratic efficacy, positivist scientific approaches, and short-term planning.
The tendency to perpetuate this colonial model of fisheries governance has continued despite the proliferation of land claim agreements across Canada. In the past 50 years, Indigenous peoples have used land claim agreements to redefine the relationships and responsibilities between Indigenous peoples, Crown government, and the land. Some Indigenous scholars, however, have pointed out that the interpretations and implementation of these agreements has largely failed to allow Indigenous peoples to govern on their own terms and in accordance with their own knowledge systems, and remain couched in Western values and priorities (Borrows 2005, Diabo 2013, King 2015). In a panel on modern treaties and Inuit self-determination, Kunuk Inuutiq (2022) argued that “we are not in a place where we define our own relationship to land and that is where we need to start.” The dominance of a Western colonial knowledge system in Canada has failed to consider or respect the governance value of Indigenous knowledge systems and perpetuated a colonial relationship with Inuit.
A reclamation of Inuit governance must be grounded in Inuit knowledge and culture. This will require that governance models be changed to align with Inuit culture and values. The goal of this research is to identify the values and priorities held by harvesters and managers in Nunatsiavut to explore how those values may be used to build a different governance model in the future.
The data for this research were collected as part of a larger project to create a Labrador Inuit-led vision for the future of the commercial fishing industry in Nunatsiavut. The interviews conducted were the first step in an iterative data collection process. The project partners were the Nunatsiavut Government, the Torngat Joint Fisheries Board, and the Torngat Coop. Research ethics approval was received from the Nunatsiavut Government Research Advisory Committee (NGRAC-20006002) and the Dalhousie Research Ethics Board (#2019-4898) before data collection began.
Semi-structured interviews were conducted with stakeholders (n = 26) in the Nunatsiavut fishing industry. Interviews were held between July and November 2021, and took place in person where possible, in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Makkovik, and Nain. When scheduling in-person interviews was not possible, interviews took place over the phone or through video calls. Recruitment was focused on stakeholders who are beneficiaries of the Labrador Inuit Land Claim agreement, and included shrimp, crab, turbot, scallop, and char harvesters, processing plant managers, managers of the Coop, current and former members of the Torngat Joint Fisheries Board, Nunatsiavut Government employees, including fisheries managers, a conservation officer, a deputy minister and minister, and AngajukKâk (mayors) from 4 out of 5 communities in Nunatsiavut. A detailed breakdown of interview participants is available in Table 1. In 2021, 18 individuals were designated to fish under Nunatsiavut licenses, of which we interviewed 11, more than half the fishers in the region. Interviews were between 35 and 90 minutes long, and were audio recorded and transcribed. On a few occasions, participants requested that their interviews not be audio recorded, in which case detailed notes were kept by the interviewers. Participants were asked about the role(s) they play in the industry, the characteristics of the fishery today, and their perspectives on the strengths and weaknesses of the fisheries.
The interviews were coded using NVivo12 software. An iterative grounded theory approach was used to analyze the data (Strauss and Corbin 1997). The lead researcher used an inductive, open coding method to understand the value(s) that participants derived from participating in the fishery, as well as participant perspectives on important pathways to success for the industry, and challenges they face in achieving their goals. Particular attention was paid to those sections of the interviews that focused on the importance of the fisheries for individuals and for Nunatsiavut. These individual values were aggregated into themes, which represent the merits, benefits, and significance of the fishing industry for participants.
To help verify these findings, preliminary results were reported back to fisheries stakeholders on two occasions, once at the Annual Fisheries Workshop in March of 2022, and again at the same meeting in December 2022. On both occasions, members from the representative organizations were present, including employees from the Nunatsiavut Government, the Torngat Coop, the Torngat Joint Fisheries Board, and the Nunatsiavut Group of Companies, as well as designated fishers. Comments made in the meeting and made privately to researchers after the meetings were noted and helped to shape how the values are communicated in this paper.
Participants were clear in their interviews that the commercial fisheries in Nunatsiavut are economically, socially, and culturally important for the region. Here, we explain the findings from the interview analysis on the specific values that the commercial fisheries bring to Nunatsiavut. Eight values were identified in the analysis, which showcase the various ways that Labrador Inuit fishers and managers understand the meanings and merits of the commercial fishing industry. These values help to explain why Nunatsiavut beneficiaries choose to participate in the fisheries as harvesters and managers, and how they wish to invest in the future of the industry.
Throughout, we refer to “managers” as those individuals who are employed to help manage the industry, either through the land claim or local governments, the co-management board, or the cooperative. We refer to “harvesters” as those 11 individuals designated to fish under the licenses. Distinguishing between these two groups allows some understanding of how fisheries are valued by those who are out harvesting, and those who see it as part of a larger project for Nunatsiavut governance. It should be noted, however, that many of those who are conceived of here as managers are part of fishing families or spent part of their own lives fishing in the industry and so also have important experiential knowledge of the value of the fisheries.
Several interviewees emphasized the importance of fisheries as an economic driver on the coast. The employment of individuals as deck hands and processors provides an important source of income to the communities of Nunatsiavut.
Managers emphasized the importance of employment, even at the expense of greater profits that could be made by selling more quota from commercial licenses to the offshore:
I mean, it would be quite easy for us if we just decided we don’t want commercial fishermen and sell our licensing to offshore. ... We could just reap all that money and put it into a gigantic pot and ... say it’s all going into social programming, but we don’t. So, we create direct employment to our designated fishermen in their deckhands (Participant 1).
Managers argue that fisheries are a kind of investment in fishers, who create new opportunities and spend their money in communities.
Although the fishers agreed that earning a living was essential for the fishery, some of those interviewed pointed to the difficulty of making a living wage off the allocation from a communal license. Applying for quota on a yearly basis meant that some fishers were unable to secure financing to get a boat of their own, leading to frustration. One participant (24), for example, complained that being Inuk meant that they were not allowed to make money out of the fishery. These fishers may stay in the industry because they feel trapped without other options for employment: “It’s all I’ve done all my life. I’ve been [fishing] since I was 13 years old. So, what else you want me to do?” (Participant 25).
Other fishers, however, see the fishery as an essential opportunity for employment and profit. “I’ve made a living. My crew have made a living. Everybody qualifies for [employment insurance] every winter. They get to be who they want from October to May. And then we get up and go fishing in the spring” (Participant 18). This quote demonstrates that the seasonal nature of the industry is positive for many fishers in the region, who use the off season to pursue other activities, including harvesting and visiting family. For some, being employed in the fishery is a chance to stay in their home communities. One participant observed that after the cod and salmon moratoria in the 1990s “there was no work for people. They had to go and look for other work in other areas ... to secure an income” (Participant 14), referring to the significance of the industry for the local economy.
Beyond the individual benefit of employment in the communities, many people spoke about how the economic success of the fisheries should be directed to communal benefits:
When you consider the resource options available to the people of Nunatsiavut, the fisheries is pretty close to it. So, you know, building an economy out of the fishery should be the overall objective. And doing everything possible to squeeze every ounce out of it for holistic reinvestment (Participant 6).
One trend that was observed in the conversations on the economic benefits of the fishery was that the fisheries were seen as a communally owned resource, and that those managing and benefiting from the industry had an obligation to care for the greater community. Several beneficiary harvesters, for example, spoke about their responsibility to employ community members on their vessels, and three spoke about bringing family members on board to teach them more about the industry. Managers spoke in their interviews about the importance of harnessing every opportunity to see communities prosper through the fisheries.
Many also saw commercial fisheries as contributing to an active community. The economic significance of the fisheries came up in all 26 interviews conducted for this project. The fisheries are economically beneficial for the region not only because they contribute to livelihoods for individuals, but also because they bring a sense of life and drive into communities.
For some, that is because employment in the community through the processing plants or on fishing vessels helps to keep people grounded in their home communities, instead of being forced to move for economic opportunities elsewhere. “The char fishery has kept Nain alive. It continues to maintain the culture ... since the fishery opened. ... When the fish plant opened, everybody went fishing. Everybody. It’s a culture” (Participant 17). This vision of a bustling, healthy community was important to participants who see the fisheries as providing purpose. It is a feeling that is clearly tied to the history of the fishing villages of the north coast, but it continues to provide feelings of well-being for many people, as in this quote: “The fishery brings life back to the community, it’s like a hope” (Participant 3).
Many participants made a link between participation in the fisheries and feeling a sense of pride and purpose. For participants in management positions, this code was generally linked to the desire to see community members being active and contributing to the success of the community, such as in this quote from Participant 14:
Educate our youth more about the fisheries. Because they don’t always know that you can actually make good money off of the fishery...I mean, it’s a big risk but it brings back more pride to yourself and to communities (Participant 14).
Others, however, also linked this feeling of pride in the fisheries to their sense of identity as Labrador Inuit, that being a harvester brought a sense of connection to their culture: “I think the priority should be to create something for the people that’s sustainable but very meaningful culturally ... that should be the top priority ... to develop something that the people can connect spiritually with” (Participant 23). This participant suggests that maintaining the fishery is a means of connecting to Labrador Inuit culture.
History and identity
Participants were clear that beyond the benefits the fishery can provide, the fishery itself is a cultural value for Labrador Inuit. “There are huge benefits in the fishery itself. It’s why we are where we are in Nunatsiavut and in our communities. Our people - my people - have always been involved in fishing” (Participant 2). The significance of the industry to the history of the region was important to many participants, as the commercial and subsistence fisheries seem to mix in memory. When speaking about the commercial salmon and char fishery, which operated between the 1970s and 1990s, participants see the industry as inextricable from an Inuit way of life: “And at the end of the day, I mean, that fishery for those families, it was medicinal. Is that the word? It was medicine for everybody. They went out and they got to be out on the land ... And everybody was happy” (Participant 18). The commercial salmon fishery that took families out into the bays during the summers is now gone, having been shut down in the early 1990s, but is still seen as the driving force behind commercial fisheries today. In fact, most of the harvesters interviewed cited the history of fishing on the land as their introduction to the industry during their childhoods. “[I’ve] been involved in the ocean-going life ever since I was a child. My mother and uncles were char fishermen ... and I guess my love for the ocean grew from there” (Participant 18). There are not many jobs in Nunatsiavut that provide an opportunity to get out on the water regularly, and the commercial fisheries, which are connected to personal histories and identities, provide the opportunity. These findings suggest that the commercial fishery occupies space in the collective history and identity of Labrador Inuit today that runs deeper than the economic importance of fisheries. “Yeah, it’s important for jobs, but it’s also a tradition that has been around since I was born. Before my time, so I just think that it’s important for the people as well” (Participant 4).
Access to the land and to traditional foods
The seasonal nature of commercial fisheries provides important support for those employed in the industry to get out on the land during the off season. In fact, multiple participants spoke about how continued access to the land and ability to continue practicing cultural activities was a motivation to many community members.
[P]eople value lifestyle and activity almost more than they value income ... a lot of the jobs here that people prefer is seasonal - to work all summer so they don’t have to work all winter because they want to be out [on the land] ... (Participant 7).
Being on the land gives Inuit opportunities to connect with their culture by practicing observational and harvesting skills, to access spiritually and personally significant places, and to spend time with family. In this respect, the fisheries support cultural practices.
An important aspect of having the time and resources to get out on the land is that it allows people the opportunity to access traditional and country foods. The commercial char fishery has helped some harvesters to pass on their knowledge to family members to support self-sufficiency for Labrador Inuit families. Getting out to fish for char is expensive; it requires access to a speed boat, fuel, equipment, and the navigation knowledge to travel through sandbars, polynyas, and islands on the way to good fishing grounds. The fishery provides one interviewee with the funds to be able to get out on the water and bring family members along. “It’s like I said, at least she’ll know if she ever catches char in a net, she’ll know how to clean it and put it away and all that” (Participant 19). This has a deep cultural value for Participant 19 because it means that they are able to pass on their culture to the next generations, teaching important cultural activities like harvesting and preparing fish while also connecting with important places. That access and the opportunities it brings is made possible by the commercial char fishery.
Self-determination through rights and quota
Participants also expressed concern that the economic benefits of the fisheries are currently being siphoned off to other areas outside of Nunatsiavut, despite the adjacency of Labrador Inuit to the resource:
The resource is right on the doorstep of our beneficiaries within Nunatsiavut. And for years ... we saw the resource being plucked underwater, being hauled away, processed many miles away, not creating jobs within the immediate area. ... The resource has been taken and gone off, and what did our people get out of it? Very, very little (Participant 13).
Although participants felt that the fisheries were providing important economic resources to the region, they felt that the majority of those resources were still not being harvested for the benefit of the region. Participants characterize the marine environment as a potential source of income for the region because of the abundance of resources but see people travelling from the south and from the island of Newfoundland as draining those resources away. Many see it as important for Nunatsiavut to develop its fishing capacity in order to bring more quota to the region and ensure that the benefits of the fishery are brought back to the region: “just because you stop fishing it doesn’t mean people from the island or people from the south also stop, right? You’ll have people come in and fish it for you” (Participant 11).
Importantly, all the participants in these interviews mentioned that they did not feel that the land claim agreement was being respected, and that they were not being listened to. “[T]he federal government should be respecting these land claims agreement things ... I don’t know. It seems like they don’t for some reason” (Participant 26). For many, developing the fisheries is a pathway for having the land claim agreement upheld, an opportunity to create a fishery more in line with Inuit life “southern rules should be made for southern areas, and northern rules should be made for northern areas ... What you’re doing is not coinciding with Inuit ways, so you should change it. ... I think that’s meant to be the point of a land claim, right?” (Participant 18).
Interviewees frequently frame development not only as an opportunity for increased capacity or efficiency, but also importantly as a way of advancing Nunatsiavut’s influence and control over fisheries management in the region. For example, when discussing the need for monitoring and enforcement on the water, Participant 13 said “I honestly think, since Labrador land claim agreement got ratified, we’re under self-government. We should be in a position now to take those programs down and say, here. We’re sending our own people off.”.
Food security and food sovereignty
Many participants spoke about the need for fisheries to contribute to food in the region. We distinguish between food security and food sovereignty here to demonstrate that participants saw the fisheries both as an avenue for increasing their economic development and food purchasing abilities (generally referred to as “food security”), and as a tool for gaining increased control over the means to produce and manage culturally significant foodstuffs (known as “food sovereignty”; Jarosz 2014)
Char is seen as important for feeding community members, either through the commercial industry or as a subsistence harvest. Food sovereignty conversations centered around char, salmon, and trout, because those species are harvested by community members for personal consumption, and participants generally agreed that the traditional harvest should take precedence over the commercial industry. “I think the big thing is that if there’s a choice between having a commercial fishery or reduced food fishery, food fishery is number one, because people will want to catch their food. So, you’ve got to have enough for a food fishery, and then enough to make a viable commercial fishery” (Participant 5). The commercial char fishery also contributes to the nutritional economy of the region when the Nunatsiavut Government purchases the majority of the char and redistributes it through the community freezer program for those who are unable to get out on the land to catch their own.
The Nunatsiavut Government also occasionally provides shrimp and crab through the community freezer program, so the commercial fisheries contribute directly to food security for community members. Food security and nutrition are major concerns in Nunatsiavut communities. As noted by Bowers et al. (2020), a 2014 study found that 59.3% of the population was food insecure, while in the same year the same measurement Canada-wide was 22%. According to Participant 8, some of the char bought by the Nunatsiavut Government is also traded with fishers in southern Labrador for Atlantic cod, which gives the community freezer program some variety. All of the AngajukKâks interviewed emphasized the importance the community freezer has for the communities. According to participants, both the commercial and subsistence char fisheries play an important role in providing traditional country food to communities.
Where the char fishery has an immediate and obvious cultural value, other fisheries also help to support access by providing the funding necessary to keep char fishing alive. Despite the fact that the char fishery is a net loss every year, Participant 1 explained that the Torngat Coop uses profits from their offshore shrimp licenses to fund char processing, a demonstration of how stakeholders in the commercial fishing industry recognizes and prioritizes cultural value. It is also one of many ways all the fisheries in Nunatsiavut are interconnected, and each contribute to the system of Labrador Inuit values.
Some interviewees shared how participating in the fishery provides them with an opportunity to care for and learn about the land and marine environments, an important aspect of Labrador Inuit culture. Many participants voiced concerns about what they have seen while out on the water, including reports about the ice breaking up sooner, leading to longer fishing seasons, concerns about the crab, turbot, and char stocks, concerns about changes in the seal and bird populations, observations of new species coming up in the nets (such as red fish and wolffish), and about erosion in the bays. Several participants discussed the need for closing areas, or shortening the seasons, and more discussed the need for catch logs and observers to maintain healthy fish stocks. There was a sense that being on the water was not just a chance to collect important information about the state of the fisheries, but about the ecosystems more broadly: “It’s not just for the fish; it’s for the fish eaters - the birds, seals - how it affects the ecosystem there” (Participant 17). Participation in the fishing industry expands and deepens participant knowledge of the marine environment and gives harvesters opportunities to practice and learn on the water, which participants expressed was an important aspect of their cultural identity.
Values as a system
Although the results above show values as distinct entities, in fact the values are connected in a network of dependencies. This organization was done through the analysis to identify the ways that values are communicated, but it does not represent the ways that these values nurture and support other values in the network. It is noteworthy that an initial attempt to organize the values into instrumental, relational, and intrinsic values (a common value type used in identifying values) was set aside when it was found that no value sat comfortably within one single category. What matters for our purposes is therefore not what “type” of value each is, but that it is expressed for the purpose of imagining a desirable future (Chan et al. 2018). Many values presented as a material gain, either for an individual or a community, but also as a non-material value, one that supports traditional activities, connection to culture, or a sense of well-being (Wilson et al. 2019).
For example, many participants emphasized the importance of employment as an economic driver on the coast. Although employment/income may at first seem like an instrumental value, for many, employment in and of itself is less beneficial than the type of employment that commercial fisheries offer, namely that it is seasonal and on the water. Seasonal employment allows community members to get out on the land during the off seasons, leaving them plenty of time to harvest country food and visit culturally and spiritually significant places. In turn, this time on the land is an opportunity to make observations about the ecosystem, such as how the ice is forming in fall, or breaking up in the spring. It is a chance to monitor indicator species like seals and sea birds. These monitoring opportunities give them insight into the fishing season to come and the ability to practice those observational skills, and to learn on the land is an important aspect of maintaining a strong connection to Inuit culture and knowledge. This interconnection between the values is of key importance to the operation of any single value. We argue therefore that the values are a complex and interdependent system that should be seen as more than the sum of its parts.
To represent this system of values, we have drawn on the work of Wilson et al. (2019), who depicted the relationship between material and non-material values of water resources for Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation. Material and non-material values communicate with one another, and nurture people through their interdependence. Figure 2 is based on their work. It depicts the material and non-material values identified in the analysis. In our version of the figure, we have added a third concentric circle that represents the expression of these values as care and kinship, community autonomy, and belonging to and identifying with one’s community. These are the deeper themes that emerged from the aggregated codes in the analysis. They represent a set of overarching Labrador Inuit values from which fisheries-specific values emerge. We provide more information on these themes below. The lines in the diagram are porous to show that no value belongs squarely in either category, and the arrows demonstrate how these values commune back and forth.
The fisheries support a Labrador Inuit ethic of care and kinship
During the interviews, managers and harvesters consistently prioritized the well-being and advancement of communities. Many see their participation in the fisheries as an opportunity for cultural rejuvenation by connecting to a traditional activity, bringing pride and dignity through work, and learning out on the water. Nunatsiavut fisheries managers all speak about their work almost as a higher calling, that they invest time and energy in the fisheries because it is a way of caring for and nurturing Labrador Inuit communities. Several harvesters also speak with pride about the observations and data gathering they do while out fishing. Being out on the water for months at a time over the decades gives them the opportunity to observe and record environmental changes. They express concern for the long-term sustainability of the fisheries and share valuable information about the whole biophysical system.
This care for community through the fisheries resembles what Whyte and Cuomo (2017) refer to as an Indigenous ethic of care, which encompasses the diverse ways that Indigenous Peoples connect the “importance of caring for other human beings as a way of caring for nature” (Whyte and Cuomo 2017:237). Participants are motivated by a responsibility to care for their communities and their marine ecosystems, and the fisheries are viewed as a tool for caretaking. A plurality of organizations and individuals see themselves as participating in a collective leadership that helps direct the flow of benefits back to communities and encourages Labrador Inuit culture to flourish (Spiller et al. 2020).
Where they have jurisdictional authority, Nunatsiavut fisheries organizations already enact caretaking practices for both human and non-human communities. For example, the Torngat Coop uses profits from offshore vessels to fund the char fishery (Foley et al. 2017), thereby providing opportunities to maintain a culturally significant fishery and provide an important country food for communities. The Torngat Joint Fisheries Board runs data collection projects that support fisheries management and conservation in the region (Snook et al. 2018, Cadman et al. 2022). But Nunatsiavut fisheries organizations do not have control over their adjacent resources to the extent that they can change the extractive and profit-driven focus of Canadian fisheries management in the region (Kourantidou et al. 2021).
Whyte and Cuomo (2017) place care directly into the public realm, as a communal act that focuses on the connections and interdependencies between humans, non-human others, and future generations. In this sense, care requires an understanding of the relationships between all elements of the system. Indigenous peoples in Canada have a right to fish, but as Reid et al. (2022) point out, that right is about much more than fish as a source of food: it is about learning and teaching place-based values and protecting and enhancing Indigenous knowledge systems on the water, extending those connections, and caring for community:
We’ve always coexisted. Even the people who go commercial fishing, ... they would take their family out fishing. You know? ... And say [name], he went fishing to make a living but also at the end of the day he went fishing to have fun with it, with the thing and for his own family. It coexists with the fishing (Participant 17).
The values expressed in this research, such as employment, community development, food security, and stewardship, are expressions of care for Labrador Inuit culture and well-being.
The fisheries are a part of Labrador Inuit identity
During the interviews, participants discussed the significance of the fisheries for Nunatsiavut, the impact fisheries have on their lives, and the assets that keep them participating in the fisheries. From these conversations, it is clear that commercial fisheries are a core part of participants’ identity, cultural heritage, and personal histories.
The relationship between commercial fishing and Labrador Inuit culture is not something that can be over simplified. Some participants shared that the fact that the commercial fisheries have been operating for hundreds of years and have long been a major economic driver in the region as being significant for cultural heritage. For others, it is through growing up in families that fished in the commercial char and salmon fisheries out in the bays during the summer that ties them to the fishery. For others, participation in the industry itself is not a part of their identity, but the ways that participation in the fisheries support access to cultural activities are important for community well-being. The intricacies and difficulties of Inuit identity are beyond the scope and capabilities of this paper. Our aim here is not to point to a universal understanding of Inuit culture. Rather, we wish to show that Inuit culture is not at odds with modern, commercial activities like fishing, and vice versa. In fact, commercial activities have been embraced in order to enrich and expand Indigenous cultures (Procter 2016, Snook et al. 2022). The species and technologies may have changed over time, but that does not lessen the connections between Labrador Inuit and the marine environment, nor does it diminish the capabilities of Inuit governance systems to manage their adjacent resources.
The long term and varied connections that participants have to the commercial fishing industry means that there is a wide range of expertise on the history and management of the fisheries. This, in turn, means that contemporary operational management of commercial fisheries is spread over several organizations. Although the Nunatsiavut Government holds a great deal of legal authority through ownership of the licenses and consultations with DFO, the Torngat Cooperative also holds licenses, and runs the processing plants for the region. The Nunatsiavut Group of Companies owns licenses as well and strategizes how they should be used to best benefit the region. The Torngat Joint Fisheries Board runs multiple important research programs in the region and provides policy recommendations to Fisheries and Oceans Canada based on scientific data and community needs, as mandated in the LILCA. In practical terms, this means that management and political power are spread over multiple jurisdictions. A Labrador Inuit model for fisheries governance may require that Canadian governments respect flattening the hierarchical power structure to create greater equity for multiple voices and expertise to participate in decision making and strategizing.
As Indigenous peoples have worked toward self-determination, they have focused on gaining control over the things that influence their quality of life and well-being (McMillan and Prosper 2016). The story of commercial fisheries in northern Labrador is inextricably tied to Labrador Inuit political mobilization and opposition to colonial forces. The Labrador Inuit Association recognized commercial fisheries as key for Labrador Inuit well-being during the land claims negotiation process (Mitchell 2015, Foley et al. 2018). This posits a new conceptual model for commercial fisheries, one that frames the industry as having value beyond its material dimensions, and includes political self-determination and agency (Wilson et al. 2019). Managers see the fisheries as a way of establishing political control over adjacent resources, and of creating more vibrant and healthy communities. The connection of Labrador Inuit to the commercial fishing industry makes it an important site to negotiate and build self-determination for Nunatsiavut.
Labrador Inuit resilience and resurgence
The results of this study demonstrate the extent to which the commercial fisheries offer an avenue for a continuation and even proliferation of Labrador Inuit values. Despite the long history of occupation by settlers, Labrador Inuit have, at least internally, managed to continue relating to the fisheries and the land in ways that uphold their cultural values. This is an example of the resilience and resourcefulness of Labrador Inuit, who have always been able to adapt to new environments, new social and physical situations. Kaplan (2012:28), looking at 200 years of Inuit history, calls flexibility and ingenuity the “defining characteristics” of Labrador Inuit, a testament to the resilience of this people through time (Woollett 2007).
The closure of the salmon and char fisheries in the 1990s were deeply felt in northern Labrador, and many of the participants spoke in their interviews about the loss of a more traditional way of life. In the same breath, however, they would speak about the current fisheries’ potential to carry on providing some of those same benefits to current and future generations. As Participant 10 put it: “The species have changed, but the livelihood hasn’t.”
This ability to take an ostensibly colonial management arrangement and use it to support the continuation of Inuit culture is not unique to Nunatsiavut’s commercial fishing industry. Procter (2012) chronicles the long history of attempted federal and provincial control over the harvesting of terrestrial species across Nunatsiavut, highlighting a desire to control what was considered traditional, and what was not. Labrador Inuit rejected this kind of cultural essentialism that would restrict their ability to harvest, and managed to open some space into the land claim agreement that would allow the Nunatsiavut Government power to develop harvesting support programs, which helped them to establish the community freezer program (Procter 2012). Further afield in Nunavut, Dowsley and Wenzel (2008) found that Inuit in Nunavut ran into conflict with polar bear managers when their knowledge and relationship to the polar bear contradicted management measures. Dowsley (2010) found that local hunting organizations were still managing the harvests according to their own value system, prioritizing long-term upkeep of the human-bear relationship.
Tuck and Yang (2012) drawing on Wolfe (2006) argued that colonialism is a structure, not an event. It is a process that reshapes and reframes connections and understandings of land and relationships. But this process is unfinished, and unable to swallow up other knowledge systems because Indigenous peoples continue to resist colonialism (Simpson 2014, 2017). These studies illuminate the resilience and strength of Indigenous cultures and provide a window into an alternative paradigm for environmental governance.
This study revealed a complex system of values that motivates fish harvesters, managers, and other stakeholders who participate in the fishing industry in Nunatsiavut. These values are embedded in a Labrador Inuit perspective on the fishery and provide some insight into what self-determined fisheries governance would look like in Nunatsiavut. Rather than a list of independently held values, these interviews demonstrated a collective understanding of what the fisheries provide to communities, and the responsibilities born by the communities in return (Todd 2018). The values are culturally and ontologically distinct from the current colonial governance system in place to manage the fisheries, showing how Inuit have maintained cultural continuity through the fisheries in spite of colonial pressures. Importantly, the institution currently in control of fisheries governance, DFO, has jurisdiction over many more facets of marine management, including marine spatial planning, protected areas, shipping, and science. The conclusions drawn in this research would have implication across multiple sectors, and equally, changes in those areas would affect fisheries. Although this research examines values in fisheries governance alone, expanding this research to understand more of the context for marine management would be instructive.
In response to centuries of harm to Indigenous communities, and through growing recognition of the important and valuable science done by Indigenous communities, many scientists and policy makers have called for better inclusion of Indigenous knowledge in governance, and more participation from Indigenous voices in decision making. This study emphasizes that “inclusion” and “participation” do not adequately address the systemic and institutional barriers that face Indigenous peoples in having their values and priorities properly addressed (Lalancette 2017, Zurba and Papadopoulos 2021, Zuercher et al. 2022). The gap between “box ticking” consultation practices and meaningful, decolonial, and just engagement requires restructuring governing institutions to correspond more closely with the knowledge systems and specifically here the values that, in part, make up that knowledge system of rights holders.
In 2012, Jeff Corntassel wrote that Indigenous resurgence and decolonization would require that Indigenous communities “envision life beyond the state.”. Truly transformational change in fisheries will require that communities rebuild governance institutions to reflect their values and knowledge systems. Commercial fishing, though it may be regarded as a “modern” or Western activity is not at odds with Inuit culture, and in fact supports the interviewees to maintain that connection, an important example of Labrador Inuit adaptiveness and resilience. Particularly because Labrador Inuit have identified commercial fisheries as an important aspect of their social well-being, it is an important space to consider future governance that is led by Inuit. By identifying and articulating a system of values held by Labrador Inuit in relation to the commercial fishing industry, we hope to illuminate some priorities for the future led by and for Inuit.
RESPONSES TO THIS ARTICLE
Responses to this article are invited. If accepted for publication, your response will be hyperlinked to the article. To submit a response, follow this link. To read responses already accepted, follow this link.
The authors acknowledge the participants of this study with thanks and particularly appreciate the support of all project partners in making the visioning project possible, especially Todd Broomfield of the Nunatsiavut Government and Ron Johnson of the Torngat Fish Producers Cooperative for their contributions. The map in this publication was created by Shawn Rivoire of the Torngat Wildlife, Plants and Fisheries Secretariat. This study was supported by a Canada First Research Excellence Fund grant through the Ocean Frontier Institute. RC acknowledges support from a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) doctoral award.
In support of Inuit data sovereignty, data collected in this study is owned by the project partners in the Torngat Wildlife Plants, and Fisheries Secretariat (TWPFS), the Nunatsiavut Government, and the Torngat Cooperative. None of the data are publicly available because they may contain information that could compromise the privacy of research participants. The data may also contain Inuit traditional knowledge, which, while it has been collected for the purpose of this research, will continue to be owned and controlled by the individual knowledge holder. Raw data collected in relation to this project is maintained by the TWPFS and are available on request, at the discretion of the project partners. Ethical approval for this research study was granted by Dalhousie Research Ethics Board and the Nunatsiavut Government Research Advisory Committee.
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Table 1. Interview participants by primary occupation.
|Representative Organization or Occupation||# of participants|
|Torngat Joint Fisheries Board||2|
|Nunatsiavut Group of Companies||1|
|Processing Plant Managers||1|