Pangnirtung was once supported by sealing, but after the market for fur fell apart in the 1980s, experts from Greenland were brought here to teach the former sealers to fish through the ice for turbot, a commercially valuable fish with which few Inuit had any experience.
Before long, there were not only fishers here but the largest fish-processing plant in Nunavut, which currently boasts about $4-million annually in sales, mostly to China.
Elsewhere in the Eastern Arctic, other fisheries for turbot, northern and striped shrimp and trout-like Arctic char have been gathering momentum. Turbot catches in Davis Strait and Baffin Bay have almost tripled in the past 15 years. And in some places, test fisheries have also been tried for clams, starry flounder, scallops and snow crabs.
Life has improved, Mr. Sowdlooapik says, but it’s not enough: “We need better harbours. We need better off-loading ports. We need bigger boats to bring in more fish of bigger value.”
As fishing grows, however, government scientists – the people who are supposed to be managing the fish – are scrambling to keep up. Like many undersea Arctic ecosystems and creatures, marine life in Cumberland Sound has remained inscrutable and little-known to researchers.
Meanwhile, government cuts to fisheries science have raised concerns that managers are too much in the dark about how sustainable the fishery might be.