Inuk senator demands inquiry into Baffin fishery

BFC president responds to allegations, NWMB reviews allocation rules


Senator Willie Adams of Nunavut says somebody should conduct an inquiry into the Baffin fishery, and he’s calling upon his fellow senators to back the idea.

In a statement made June 15 inside the Senate chamber, Adams said such an inquiry should probe recent complaints about foreign involvement in the Nunavut fishery, potentially harmful fishing methods, the use of fishing royalties, and include an “audit of Inuit benefit from the fishery.”

“The fisheries and businesses should be owned 51 per cent by members of the community. That way the people who live in our community will benefit,” Adams said.

Though he didn’t mention the group by name, Adams’ comments were aimed clearly at the Baffin Fisheries Coalition and its Greenland-Iceland partners.

Since 2001, the BFC has fished most of its turbot and shrimp quota in Davis Strait with factory-freezer dragger-trawlers, landing most of their catch at ports in Greenland.

Adams suggests this practice takes potential fish plant jobs away from Nunavummiut and other Canadians. He also said Inuit in small communities prefer using smaller vessels equipped with hook-and-line or gill-net gear.

“If up to 75 per cent of the fish are landed in Greenland, what is the investment for our people in the community?” Adams said.

But Ben Kovic, the president of BFC, said in an interview with Nunatsiaq News earlier this month that the BFC does land fish in Greenland — but the catch is not processed at Greenlandic plants.

Those Baffin fish are merely stored at holding facilities in Greenland to await trans-shipment to markets in Europe, Kovic said.

On factory-freezer trawlers like the Inuksuk I, plant workers gut and cut the heads off fish on a small assembly-line located below decks. After that, the fish can be frozen, packed into boxes and sent directly to market.

So for that, and other reasons related to their cost of operation, Kovic says building more community fish-plants in Nunavut, an idea advocated by community groups in Clyde River and Qikiqtarjuaq, won’t work.

He says Nunavut already has one money-losing fish-plant on its hands — the Pangnirtung operation owned jointly by Cumberland Sound Fisheries and the Nunavut Development Corp. — and doesn’t need any more.

But Kovic says the BFC will back something that he believes would create the local jobs that communities now complain they’re not getting — fish storage facilities in the Baffin, to replace the ones they use in Greenland.

These would be large, refrigerated spaces where frozen fish could be stored while awaiting transport to markets in the South. Kovic said local people could be hired to off-load fish, and maintain the storage facilities. And in the off-season, he says, they could be used as community freezers for country food.

Kovic also responded to the allegation that dragger-trawling is environmentally harmful by pointing out that hook-and-line fishing may also damage fish stocks.

He said it’s true that trawling nets catch larger numbers of smaller, immature fish.

But Kovic added that the gill-net and hook-and-line methods that Adams advocates can lead to the capture of too many egg-bearing females — which is not good for fish stocks either.

Meanwhile, another process, announced last week by the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board, might end up meeting many of Adams’ concerns.

That’s because the wildlife board is now seeking public comment on a performance review report done recently by NTI, the GN and DIAND.

Called Organizational and Performance Review of Nunavut’s Offshore Fishing Industry, the document recommends measures that would require that companies seeking fish quota in Nunavut water submit “benefit” plans, business plans, and governance plans.

It says that, ideally, allocation of quota should go to communities rather than private individuals or corporations, and that a portion of each year’s turbot quota be set aside for inshore test fishing.

Bill Rompkey, the Liberal senator for Labrador, backed Adams’ demand and said the Senate fisheries committee should travel to Nunavut for hearings this fall.

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