The vice-president of the Inuit Circumpolar Council Canada – who is also an NWT MLA – is hailing a ban on unregulated commercial fishing in the High Arctic as an example of the leadership role Indigenous people must take in climate negotiations.

The ban on commercial fishing in the high seas of the central Arctic Ocean covers international waters hundreds of kilometres off the coast of Canada, the United States, Russia, Norway and Denmark – with respect to Greenland and the Faroe Islands. photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Patrick Kelley

Nunakput MLA Herb Nakimayak said he was the sole Indigenous person representing Inuit at the negotiating table for the agreement, in his role as vice-president of the Inuit Circumpolar Council Canada.

He said the “first-of-its-kind” agreement demonstrates inclusion of Indigenous people – not just in Canada, but around the world.

In his role, he met with Indigenous people to gauge their thoughts on how the agreement might work with different governments, and to bring those ideas to the table.

“Since it’s right in our backyard, it’s important for Inuit and Indigenous people to be involved in the decision-making process as well as including Indigenous local knowledge,” said Nakimayak. “These negotiations are meant to prevent any more unregulated, unreported fishing since there’s no conservation measures put in place.”

However, the GNWT is not as pleased with how the decision-making process played out.

“It all rolls back to the premier and his red alert about the federal government making decisions without getting input from the Government of the Northwest Territories,” said Industry Minister Wally Schumann. “It’s unregulated international waters, but I think it’s alarming again how the federal government’s gone ahead and done something like this without talking to us.”

On Nov. 30, Canada, the European Union and eight other jurisdictions reached an agreement to prevent unregulated commercial fishing in the high seas of the central Arctic Ocean.

The ban will last at least 16 years, allowing experts to gather better science on Arctic waters before any fishing can take place, stated information from Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

There is currently no commercial fishing in those high seas and the ban will not affect any local Canadian fisheries.

Schumann agreed the ban is the right thing to do, but stressed the GNWT would have liked to be included in the decision-making.

“We’re just not the little kid up here that the federal government’s babysitting,” the minister said.

Given the longer open season in the Northwest Passage, the ban is good news to Paulatuk mayor Ray Ruben Sr.

“We’ve heard of countries like China and Korea and others that are looking for major fishery areas,” he said. “That will affect, through the food chain, the coastal species. We have our char that rely on food sources out there, the beluga and the seals, everything that depends on what happens out in the Beaufort.”

Geneva Noble dissects an Arctic Char. The federal government announced on Nov. 30 an international agreement was reached to ban unregulated commercial fishing in the high seas of the central Arctic Ocean. photo courtesy of Nunavut Arctic College

While Ruben Sr. said people from his community weren’t directly consulted on the ban, he’s in favour until more regulations exist.

Nakimayak described the high seas of the central Arctic Ocean as approximately 322 kilometres offshore.

It includes waters off the coast of Canada, the United States, Russia, Norway and Denmark – with respect to Greenland and the Faroe Islands.

These are international waters outside any country’s exclusive economic zone, stated Fisheries and Oceans spokesperson Carole Saindon in an email.

With the melting polar ice cap, Arctic waters are vulnerable to fishing by other countries without the ban in place, said Nakimayak.

He stressed the need for Indigenous voices to be included in any process affecting their climate and livelihood – right from the very beginning.

Schumann said he believes Nakimayak has done “the right thing” representing the Inuit Circumpolar Council Canada in the negotiations.

“But our point is, as the Government of the Northwest Territories … we need to be at the table or at least be informed of what’s going on,” he said.

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