Exploratory Fisheries and Ecosystem Surveys in Nunavut

Exploratory marine fisheries in Nunavut represent potential new opportunities for economic development and have recently been extended thanks to an industry-academic partnership which will provide new insights about the marine ecosystems that support Arctic food webs and fisheries yields.

In 2014, the Arctic Fishery Alliance (AFA) and the Marine Institute’s Centre for Fisheries Ecosystems Research (CFER) undertook a mission to Nunavut to explore potential new fisheries and collect valuable ecological information in remote and understudied regions of Canada’s eastern Arctic.

The resulting coldwater shrimp and whelk catches in Jones Sound (located between Ellesmere and Devon Islands) were of great interest to residents of Grise Fiord (see Encouraging Results from Grise Fiord Exploratory Fishery, The Navigator, November 2014), who look forward to exploring the potential of a new subsistence fishery.


Susan Fudge, fisheries biologist at CFER, with a whelk caught off Qikiqtarjuaq

Similar catch results in the waters surrounding Broughton Island have also brought excitement to the community of Qikiqtarjuaq.

Aboard the AFA fishing vessel Kiviuq I, CFER personnel collected new data on the oceanographic conditions of these waters, catch composition, and distribution information for Greenland halibut (turbot) and other fish and invertebrates. Further collections of sea pens (deep water corals), water samples, fish otoliths, and zooplankton were also archived for analyses to understand the ages, growth rates, food web structure, and potential fish movements adjacent to these Nunavut communities.


PhD candidate Brynn Devine with a Sea Spider.

Importantly, the data collected (including temperature loggers attached to longline gear by fishers) have already been used to explore depth and temperature preferences of commercial species and to map areas where species like Greenland halibut may be more likely to be distributed in adjacent regions. These northern samples are of great value to the wider scientific community. For example, analyses at CFER examining species distributions and thermal habitat, along with ongoing collaborations, illustrate the contributions of these data to fisheries research and beyond.
The significance of this new information is evident when this northern region is compared to a more familiar one of equal area further south.

Devon Island, Nunavut lies just south of Jones Sound at 75 degrees latitude in Canada’s Arctic, and is the same approximate area (55,200 km²) as Nova Scotia. However, in terms of understanding fisheries resources and marine conditions surrounding them, these areas are worlds apart.

In the waters surrounding Nova Scotia, fisheries and oceanographic surveys operate at least annually and the distributions of fish and invertebrates are so well known that changes in their distributions are apparent from one year to the next.

This contrasts Jones Sound, where previous catch records exist only from Norwegian expeditions on The Fram in 1898-1902. The results of this recent AFA-CFER survey have provided the most thorough baseline ecosystem survey of the area to date, providing new species records to contribute to knowledge of northern range extents.

These unique findings and fauna encountered caught the attention of Canadian Geographic’s Polar Blog that highlighted biodiversity at the bottom of the Arctic Ocean. With temperatures and ice conditions in the Arctic expected to experience dramatic changes in coming years it is important to gather information on species and their environments in the face of shifting climates.

The success of this collaboration and the new information to science has spurred interest in expanding these surveys in space and time. Planning is currently underway to extend the fishery and ecosystem surveys in this region to a multi-year program that includes Resolute Bay, Arctic Bay, and revisiting Jones Sound, while also exploring fishing opportunities around Qikiqtarjuaq.

The development of community involvement for ecological monitoring in these areas year-round has also been identified as a priority.

Increasingly, the expansion of fisheries in Canadian waters is regulated through scientific information and traditional knowledge of both the status of individual populations and an understanding of their roles and biological productivity within aquatic systems.


Fishing crew of the Kiviuq I help to retrieve water sampling equipment.

The collection of scientific data during exploratory fishing efforts will be crucial to executing an ecosystem approach to the management of these potentially expanding fisheries. This industry-academic partnership’s shared goal of exploring potential fisheries resources while characterizing the wider ocean environment through ecosystem-based studies addresses these research needs.

Laura Wheeland is a Fisheries Technologist with the Centre for Fisheries Ecosystems Research (CFER) within the Fisheries and Marine Institute of Memorial University of Newfoundland. Brynn Devine is a doctoral candidate at Memorial University (Biology) working within CFER.

More information on CFER is available at: www.mi.mun.ca/cfer

Contact: Laura.Wheeland@mi.mun.ca, Brynn.Devine@mi.mun.ca

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