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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


May 17, 2003 - Issue 87


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The Fish are Flying
Despite unforeseen setbacks, inshore commercial fishing in Cumberland Sound forges forward

by KIRSTEN MURPHY - Nunatsiaq News

photo1: Leetia Akpalialuk, Rebecca Etuangat and Olassie Akulukjuk gut and fillet turbot.
photo 2: Ooleepa Akulukjuk is one of 50 Pangnirtung residents employed by Pangnirtung Fisheries Inc.
photo 3: Meena Newkinga packs frozen fish.
photo 4: Plant workers take an afternoon break.
photo 5: Rosie Mosesee, the plant's floor manger, at one of three walk-in freezers.


Leetia Akpalialuk, Rebecca Etuangat and Olassie Akulukjuk gut and fillet turbot.PANGNIRTUNG - Geela Evic slips into a yellow apron and disappears into the Pangnirtung Fisheries Inc. plant. The factory rumbles with conveyor belts and forklifts.

Evic joins 35 other rubber-gloved employees processing the final 225,000 kilograms of turbot hauled from Cumberland Sound this winter.

The year's inshore fishery netted triple the size of last year's 76,500 kilogram catch.

"It's a very promising sign," says Michael Nowinski, the plant's general manager.

The results are good news for Pangnirtung, the only Nunavut community using high-volume ice fishing for commercial purposes. The fishery employs more than 80 people: 50 plant workers and 35 fishermen annually. More jobs are expected in the coming year.

The number of fish from Cumberland Sound's inshore fishery has risen, fallen and is rising again, according to data collected by the federal department of fisheries and oceans.

Last year, the Pangnirtung fish plant processed 450,000 kilograms, of fish, most of it turbot, from the combined inshore and offshore fisheries along Baffin Island's east coast. A small portion of char is processed at the plant each summer.

Ooleepa Akulukjuk is one of 50 Pangnirtung residents employed by Pangnirtung Fisheries Inc.Nowinski says 99 per cent of their product goes to U.S. markets. The remaining one per cent is shipped to Nunavut restaurants and Iqaluit Enterprises, Baffin Island's only privately owned commercial fish store and meat processing plant.

Nowinski is encouraged by this year's inshore numbers. So much so he's adding additional freezer space and filleting equipment this summer.

A greater volume of fish means increased employment opportunities, he predicts.

"We're gong to see more jobs, not less," Newinski says.

The past and the future

Inshore turbot fishing in Cumberland Sound began 1987, after hunters reported finding the deep-water fish in the stomachs of seals. Until then, turbot sightings were rare or not reported.

Meena Newkinga packs frozen fish.Longlining was introduced and is still used today about 100 kilometres from town. The basic ice-fishing technique involves lowering a line with 100 baited hooks through a hole the ice. The lines lie 300 to 500 metres deep and are weighted with a kite and anchor. A motorized hauler pulls the lines up.

Inshore catch rates peaked in 1993 with a total harvest of 420,000 kilograms during an 18-week fishery. Six years later, the numbers plummeted to a meager 34,000 kilograms from an 11-week fishery. The decline was a reflection of fisherman not fishing as long or as much because of thin, cracked ice battered by wind.

Inshore turbot fishing has money-making potential because the demand for fish is high and equipment costs are low. Unlike offshore fishing in Baffin Bay and Davis Strait, inshore fishing does not need million-dollar boats, specially trained equipment operators or a deep-sea-port - resources Nunavut stakeholders insist they want but can't afford.

Instead, hunters have the basic inshore equipment: snowmobiles and qamutiit.

Plant workers take an afternoon break.Plans are under way to develop Nunavut's emerging turbot fishery both inshore and offshore. The Nunavut Fisheries Working Group (NFWG) is made up of Nunavut's department of sustainable development, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. and the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board.

Currently, the group's focus has been on turbot and shrimp. However, crab, scallops, clams and mussels in various east coast hamlets are also being explored.

NFWG wants a separate management zone for Cumberland Sound. Right now, the fiord is part of Zone OB in Davis Strait and subject to fishing by outside interests for various and contentious reasons currently under review.

NFWG wants DFO to approve a separate annual one million kilogram turbot quota specifically for Cumberland Sound.

"This quota would permit and promote the further development of the winter fishery as well as provide opportunities to explore the development of an open-water summer fishery," an NFWG report says.

The application is currently before DFO.

Good news, bad news

Cumberland Sound is known for its high winds that create unstable ice and prevent fishermen from safely reaching their longlining holes. This year was different.

"The ice conditions are the best we've seen in seven years," said Robert Fiander, the plant's production manager.

Rosie Mosesee, the plant's floor manger, at one of three walk-in freezers.However, the bounty is bittersweet. The delicate white fish is trading at $2 less per pound than it was two months ago. The shortfall is due to human disease, a strong Canadian dollar and a surplus of turbot.

Recent SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) cases worldwide affected some the biggest turbot purchasers.

"Nobody is going out to Asian restaurants," Fiander says.

Secondly, a strong Canadian dollar means U.S. brokers – who purchase the majority of Nunavut's turbot and char with U.S. dollars – are paying less per pound because the U.S. dollar is worth less relative to the Canadian dollar than it was two months ago.

And finally, as is the case every year, turbot season in Atlantic Canada opened this month. The additional fishing creates flooded market, and prices inevitably drop.

Even so, Fiander is cautiously optimistic. He sees growth potential but is concerned about capacity building.

"If the volume of fish doubles, we'd have to get our own plane to keep the fish moving out," he says.

Pangnirtung, Nunavut, Canada Map

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