ENVIRONMENT AND SOCIAL CHANGE IN WEST GREENLAND FISHERIES
HAMILTON, LAWRENCE C. University of New Hampshire.
Brown, Benjamin C. University of New Hampshire.
Rasmussen, Rasmus O. Roskilde University.
Complex interactions between climatic, ecological and human
variables occur widely in fisheries systems. The modern history
of west Greenland clearly illustrates this pattern. An
international fishery for Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) flourished
during a period when warm waters extended northwards along
Greenland's SW coast, from 1920 through the 1960s. The Irminger
Current occasionally transported cod from seas around Iceland,
and warmer conditions allowed local spawning off west Greenland.
But a combination of overfishing and cooler temperatures proved
deadly in the late 1960s. Cod stocks collapsed, making only
feeble recoveries following warmer periods in the 1970s and
1980s. As temperatures fell below about 1.8 C, local stocks
could not reproduce. A final peak of fishing effort in the late
1980s finished off the remaining cod.
The elimination of cod, a top predator, has been followed by an
increase in the abundance of northern shrimp (Pandalus borealis).
These provide the basis for a new west Greenland fishery. Shrimp
catches appear less sensitive to temperature, but grew
dramatically after cod disappeared. Multiple regression analysis
finds that cod catches, Fylla Bank temperatures, winter Arctic
Oscillation (AO) and North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) indices
together explain more than 70% of the variance in shrimp
catches -- or 80%, if smoothed versions of the climate indicators
The main peaks and collapses in cod catches follow warming and
cooling periods, respectively. The final cod peak in the late
1980s was weak, however, because so little of the spawning stock
survived to this point. Shrimp catches ramped up during two
warming periods, and then remained high once the cod were all
gone. Today the shrimp fishery has replaced cod in terms of
value, but its benefits are distributed differently within
The west Greenland municipalities of Sisimiut and Paamiut have
been described as "a winner and a loser," respectively, during
Greenland's cod-to-shrimp transition. Their stories are not
simple accounts of environmental determinism, however. Rather,
environmental change interacted with social forces to shape the
divergent outcomes we see today. Investments made during the
earlier stage of the transition, when shrimp were found only to
the north, created structural advantages for northern ports
(e.g., Sisimiut and Nuuk) that persisted even as the shrimp
themselves became available further south.
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