The most important occupation
Fishing is a crucial occupation in Greenland and is very important in terms of employment and exports. The fishing industry accounts for 90% of the territory’s exports. Almost one-quarter of Greenland’s workforce are employed in fishing, hunting and the fishing industry.
With combined fishing output of 238,000 tonnes, Greenland occupies 51st place worldwide, primarily by virtue of its production of cold-water prawns. Secondly, because Royal Greenland A/S is in the category of the world’s ten largest fishing enterprises, with a combined turnover of almost USD 700 million.
Prawns and Greenland halibut the most important
Exports of prawns, Greenland halibut, cod and crabs account for the most significant productive contribution by far to Greenland’s economy. The three most important products are shell-on prawns, cooked and peeled prawns as well as Greenland halibut, which to some extent plays an equally large role. After these come crabs, followed by cod and other types of fish. Altogether, Greenland exports DKK 2 billion worth of fish products each year.
More cod, fewer prawns
If sea temperatures rise, species such as cod, Norway haddock, halibut, Atlantic wolffish and herring will be able to thrive further north than they do today. Species such as Arctic cod, East Siberian cod and Arctic skate will also seek out more northerly waters. Prawns and crabs can be expected to head away from regions with warmer sea water. It should be noted that it takes only quite small changes in sea temperatures to bring about big changes. However, it is difficult to foresee the extent of such changes. Fishing is governed by many factors: local weather conditions, the interplay of ecosystems, and the way the authorities and politicians handle this living natural resource.
It has happened before
Changes have happened before. There was a huge challenge to the fishing industry to change in the late 1980s and early 1990s when cod all but vanished from Greenland’s waters. This was caused by factors which included a drop in temperature of 1°C!
Thus, changes in temperature are not unknown. What is new here is that these changes are occurring more rapidly, and they are a combination of natural and man-made occurrences. Moreover, even minor fluctuations can have enormous consequences.
Adjustment may once again be necessary
Changes in sea temperatures may mean there is a need to readjust the fleet, equipment, industrial plant, etc. On the other hand, there will be fishing opportunities in brand-new regions. The ports will be more readily navigable, and brand-new export opportunities may open up.
An end to traditional fishing
Traditional ice fishing with dog sledges is all but finished as an occupation. Previously, the season lasted from October to May. Now it starts in December and ends in March – so it lasts about half as long. On the other hand, there is now more scope for fishing from boats.