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32nd Annual Arctic Workshop Abstracts
March 14-16, 2002
INSTAAR, University of Colorado at Boulder

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ENVIRONMENT AND SOCIAL CHANGE IN WEST GREENLAND FISHERIES

AUTHORS

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 are used.

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 Greenland society.

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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