Nuuk continues to amaze me with how warm and wonderful the people are. Yesterday we went to meet Alfred, at the hunters and fishers association, KNAPK. Upon our arrival, he offered us some fermented Cod (actually quite good) with seal oil to dip in for lunch (also delicious) Most of our group wasn’t prepared to eat any serious quantity of these unique foods after sampling, but I’d have gladly skipped lunch to have eaten more. The KNAPK meeting began to fill out more of the different viewpoints which people in Greenland have on development, and provided us with a glimpse into how the various interests are working to try to make sure their concerns are met as Greenland develops.
I say, “as Greenland develops” rather than “if Greenland develops” intentionally. Everyone we’ve met so says that they are in favor of developing Greenland’s natural resources, including the mineral ones, but only if it’s done properly. It seems that the definition of ‘done properly,’ is where the discussion lies. There also seems to be some differing opinions as to which industries should be the focus of Greenland’s efforts to develop its domestic economy. One suggestion we heard a lot about at KNAPK, as an alternative to mineral development, was the idea of developing the value adding processing of Greenland’s catch here in Greenland. This Alfred said, would improve both the quality of the product sent to market and keep employment dollars here at home.
From the quota breakdowns we’ve been told, much of the catch in Greenland waters at this point is either taken offshore by foreign onboard-processing trawlers, which have access to Greenlandic waters by a series of international agreements, or landed in Greenland only to be block frozen and shipped to China, Poland, Spain, or other places with a cheaper and more available labor force for processing. Even the Greenland national fishing company Royal Greenland, apparently has processing plants abroad. One model for this sort of alternative fisheries development, we are told, is Iceland. Iceland has built the infrastructure for domestic processing and rapid export to the markets of Europe and North America, as well as engaged in a branding campaign to inform the public of their superior quality product, in an effort to gain better prices. The differences in the amount of money paid for fish at various stages from the ocean to the table are significant and around the world, the primary producer gets very little compared to the table price. Taking cod for example, we are told that whole, gutted cod at the docks in Nuuk fetch about 4Kr/kilo- or less than 50 cents US a pound. By the time the cod are filleted and carried up the hill to the town fish market, they fetch about 50Kr/kilo, or around $4.50 US/lb. Some of this added value is because the inedible parts of the fish are thrown away, but much of it is the labor of filleting. Shipping it to foreign markets at least doubles this value, and having it prepared at a fancy restaurant can send it through the roof. While none of the steps carry an incredible percentage of actual profits, a significant amount of labor expense is used at each step; labor, which if kept in Greenland, would mean many more dollars in the local economy.
After discussing how quotas are set and learning about the dialogue that the hunters and fishers association has with the Institute of Natural Resources to help guide the research topics and incorporate hunter’s and fishers’ knowledge into the advice given to the government for quota setting, we brought up the seal ban. The EU seal ban is one of the biggest issues for the fisherman up which is not under Greenlandic control. We’ve heard now from both the hunters and the scientists at INR is that the seal population has rapidly grown since the EU banned the importation of seal products and killed the seal market. Both seals and whales place predatory pressure on the species which are still of commercial value… and make up something like 75% of Greenland’s exports. Despite all that I’ve heard indirectly in the past (now that I think about it from lobby groups) about the seals not making a significant impact on fisheries in Canada. I’m increasingly convinced that this is simply not the case. Seals here eat stuff that fisherman catch, or stuff that is food for what the fishermen catch, and 10 million of them eat a lot of it. Greenland probably can’t afford to control the seals unless the skins and meat can be sold and cannot afford to loose productivity in its fisheries at a time when it is hoping to become more financially independent.
Though certainly far from the only cause, at least a few folks we have talked to feel that the loss of seal income and risks to fisheries productivity are another force pushing the drive toward mineral and hydropower resource development. Above and beyond the environmental concerns, which Greenlanders are struggling with about these projects, these new development projects will only provide wage-labor in a very different set of circumstances, less connected with the land and the historic culture of Greenland, than, for example, seal hunting. Though the connections are not 100%, they are real, and it is amazing to me the cascading impacts of a law made far away by people without experience in the Arctic. I imagine that many of the same people concerned about the seals well being would be interested to know the impacts of the ban on the vitality of indigenous hunting lifestyles in Greenland. The seal ban is definitely a topic we will ask other folks about to fill in more of our understanding.
All the talk of Greenlandic fisheries at KNAPK had me pretty hungry, so we decided to cook a local meal for dinner. At the grocery store we found some fresh harvested Greenlandic finger potatoes from south Greenland, which we roasted with thyme. At the hunter’s market we picked up some fresh cod which we sautéed with some lemon and chili pepper. For an appetizer, greenlandic prawns. Best dinner I’ve had all trip, and incredibly inexpensive compared to the less fresh U.S. version of the same.