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Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way
WEB MAGAZINE - March 2019

Local hunters, fishermen and environmental pioneers





“All our members are local fishermen and hunters, and we live our lives in close contact with nature every day,” says Per Ole Frederiksen, member of the Natural Resource Council of Attu. “On our daily fishing and hunting trips, we observe the status of the area’s living resources, such as variations in fish stocks and changes in the population of, for instance, walruses and Greenlandic seals, reindeer, musk ox, coastal birds and narwhals.”

Fishing and hunting

Attu is a settlement of around 200 inhabitants, located on a small island off the western coast of Greenland that relies heavily on fishing and hunting. The first Natural Resource Councils were set up in 2009 as part of the PISUNA project, an initiative aiming to strengthen the involvement of local hunters and fishermen in the monitoring and management of living resources. Attu joined the project in 2014.

In the beginning, we noted our observations in paper notebooks, which is somewhat difficult when you’re on an open boat in the Arctic,

Per Ole Frederiksen, The Nordic Council Environment Prize 2018

“In the beginning, we noted our observations in paper notebooks, which is somewhat difficult when you’re on an open boat in the Arctic,” says Frederiksen. “Therefore, we now do what our forefathers have done for more than 4,000 years, which is to meet and discuss our observations of the living resources and compare them with previous years. We also observe any changes in the climate and environment which might affect the availability of our living resources.”

Passes in observations

The Natural Resource Council of Attu meets once every quarter to discuss their observations together with PâviâraK Jakobsen of Qeqertalik Municipality, who documents the observations and passes them on to those involved in natural resource management in Greenland, locally and regionally. Jakobsen describes the input as vital for sustainable management of the Arctic ecosystems.

“Scientific research projects study specific areas at specific times, often years apart, whereas the local hunters are there every day, all year round. They live off the nature that surrounds them. They know better than anyone that it’s in our own interest to utilise the living resources with utmost respect.”

“It’s clear that climate change is affecting our ecosystems.”

Per Ole Frederiksen, The Nordic Council Environment Prize 2018

Direct influence on national resource management

Nette Levermann has been involved in the PISUNA project from the very beginning. She is a biologist and Head of Section at the Ministry of Fisheries, Hunting and Agriculture in Greenland.

“The observations from the Natural Resource Councils are a great addition to the scientific advice for sustainable resource management,” she explains. “The local hunters know exactly when the different species arrive to their local area and when they leave again. They see the changes happen before anybody else and can pinpoint the species that we need to focus upon. Their knowledge is indispensable for our resource management.”

Resource management

What’s special about the PISUNA project, Levermann says, is that the local hunters’ knowledge and interpretations can play a key role in the local resource management in Greenland. Their suggestions initially go through the local committees for living resources or their local municipal board. If the issue needs to be addressed nationally, the proposals are sent to the Association of Fishers and Hunters in Greenland (KNAPK) and the Ministry of Fisheries, Hunting and Agriculture.

“This ensures that the process is democratic, and that the data is validated,” says Levermann. “It’s a way of quantifying the local, traditional knowledge. While it has always played a role in our natural resource management, the systematic documentation gives it even more weight and value.”

Climate change affecting the ecosystem

According to PâviâraK Jakobsen, the observations of the Natural Resource Council of Attu clearly show that changes in the Arctic climate have significantly impacted the ecosystem. One of the more visible differences concerns the ice conditions along the west coast.

“The ice is changing,” Jakobsen says. “Previously, we had solid ice on which we could travel for hunting for five-six months a year. Now, this period might only be three-four weeks, and the ice is becoming thinner and more unstable. It’s clear that climate change is affecting our ecosystems.”

Warmer ocean temperatures are also causing new fish species to move into the Arctic waters.

“Previously, the warm Gulf Stream only reached the Disco Bay area every few years, but now it’s a yearly occurrence. As a result, cod, which was an important fishery source between the 1930s and 1960s, has returned to Greenland. Our living resources are slowly moving north. That’s the trend we’re observing.”

Political commitment to sustainable resource management

Receiving the Nordic Council Environment Prize 2018 has strengthened the political focus on sustainable resource management, both nationally and locally in Greenland. The prize has also increased interest in the Natural Resource Councils and the PISUNA method, also internationally.

Overview over previous Environmental Prize winners

“The Nordic Council Environment Prize is a huge acknowledgement of the work that’s being done along the entire west coast of Greenland,” says Jakobsen. “It’s also an acknowledgement of the value of using traditional knowledge and hunting traditions to ensure sustainable utilisation of natural resources. Our next step is to expand the project into more communities along the west coast.”

More information about the PISUNA project

PISUNA – Piniakkanik sumiiffinni nalunaarsuineq – is Greenlandic for local documentation and management of living resources. More information can be found at www.pisuna.org.

For observations documented under PISUNA, please visit the PISUNA-net observation database.

Photo: Per Ole Frederiksen on behalf of The Natural Resource Council of Attu on the west coast of Greenland receiving the Nordic Council Environment Prize for 2018 from Norwegian prime minister Erna Solberg. Credit: Johannes Jansson/norden.org