Fisheries bill: a consultation that goes badly | Polarjournal
Fishing is a crucial sector for the island, with many small-scale fishermen entirely dependent on this activity to support themselves and their families. If the law, which is over thirty years old, could benefit from revision, the consultation process is causing teeth to grind. Image: Department of Fisheries and Hunting / Government of Greenland

The new fisheries bill is making waves in Greenland and the main point of contention concerns the consultation period, considered too short for such an important subject for the island and its inhabitants.

Submitted for consultation at the end of November, the fisheries bill has been the subject of fierce criticism from fishermen, their organizations and local elected representatives. At issue is the January 24 consultation deadline set by the Ministry of Fisheries and Hunting, headed by Social Democrat (Siumut) Kim Kielsen. Eight weeks is far too short for a text of over 150 pages, divided into 16 chapters, on a subject of crucial importance to the country. At least, that’s what many people are saying, protesting against this deadline and calling for it to be extended. To no avail. Kim Kielsen remained adamant.

The current Fisheries Act dates back to 1996. Although it has undergone several modifications, it has never really been overhauled in thirty years, and previous ministers in charge of fishing and hunting have all had a more or less hard time with a revision of the law.

Despite protests calling for the consultation period to be extended, the bill is due to be discussed at the Government of Greenland, Naalakkersuisut, spring session. Image: Government of Greenland

Complex topics on a crucial subject. The fishermen asked for more time to study the text and understand all its ins and outs. Kielsen dismissed this claim on the grounds that the commission’s report, from which the proposals were derived, had already been presented two years earlier: “The commission’s report was presented in September 2021, more than two years ago, and all interested parties had the opportunity to calculate possible measures themselves during the commission’s work,” according to the minister quoted by Sermitsiaq on January 15. “[…] subsequently, fishing seminars were held in Ilulissat and Nuuk, citizen meetings throughout the country as well as meetings with all stakeholders regarding the new law.”

A crucial sector for Greenland and the country’s largest industry, fishing is also the island’s only export economy. In addition to the economic aspect, fishing is also seen as a cultural issue, as it is so closely linked to an identity and lifestyle, particularly small boat fishing. Image: Heiner Kubny

However, the number of public meetings was also singled out for criticism. Quoted in a press release published on the Avannaata Kommunia website on January 10, the municipality’s mayor, Palle Jerimiassen, encouraged the minister to hold more meetings, particularly in Uummannaq, Upernavik and Qaanaaq: “[…] The fishermen can rightly expect to have a proper dialogue with the minister, so that they can both present the new law correctly and make valuable contributions to further work on the fisheries law”.

A sensitive subject, as evidenced by the law text burnt by fishermen in Maniitsoq. An angry gesture that could well be followed in other localities. Ulloriaq Olsen, president of the Sisimiut Fishermen’s and Hunters’ Association, said he understood the move, adding that local fishermen would probably do the same thing.

Economically, fishing accounts for 90% of exports and nearly 30% of gross income. For the year 2023, for example, exports reached over five billion Danish kroner (over 700 million euros). A crucial financial sector for the local economy, especially for the country’s west coast, mainly Avannaata Kommunia, which accounts for 50% of global revenues from fishing exports. Besides, the commune’s 10,000 or so inhabitants depend directly or indirectly on income from this sector.

Mirjana Binggeli, PolarJournal

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