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When Kim Kielsen was campaigning to become Greenland’s premier in 2014, he, at one point, sought to demonstrate the unfulfilled potential of his country’s fishing industry by showing off a jar of Greenlandic lumpsucker roe purchased in Denmark.
A delicacy enjoyed in the Nordic countries, lumpsucker roe (pictured above in its unprocessed state) commands a price of about 20 kroner ($2.85) per 50 gram jar in Copenhagen supermarkets. At the time of of the campaign, this price was 50 times greater than the amount exporters paid to the fishermen who gathered it.
Mr Kielsen used the discrepancy to suggest that more needed to be done to promote the export of processed fish products, thus allowing the country to keep at least some of the markup.
Fishing is already Greenland’s largest industry, so even proposals to make minor changes are hotly debated. As the seasons for high-value species the likes of not only lumpsucker but also mackerel approach, the discussions about whether the country could get more out of it are growing more intense.
The consensus is that it is not. In addition to Mr Kielsen’s focus on limiting the amount of unfinished products that leave the country, others, including Hans Enoksen, his fisheries minister, suggest finding ways to open up the industry to more people is the right approach.
This last has provoked a row between Mr Enoksen and the industry, which says the plan is based on the mistaken belief that some some quotas are not being fully fished.
In some cases, Mr Enoksen is undeniably correct. Last year, fishermen caught less than half the total allowable catch of mackerel, for example, resulting in 60 million kroner less revenue than the government had projected. The catch of lumpsucker fish was also off.
Discussion over who is right in the case of other fish species, primarily cod, halibut and redfish, as well as prawns, will stir the waters further. Mr Enoksen suggests that the new fishermen should be given the quotas that big fishing firms cannot fish. His ministry is now in the process of changing quota rules for cod, halibut and redfish.
Established firms have cried foul. They insist they have no problems filling their quotas, and instead warn against putting more boats on the water.
Mr Enoksen has admitted that changing the quota system and allowing more fishermen will have economic consequences for the industry, but expects that any harm can be made up in the form more fish being landed overall, which, he reckons, would also lead to more jobs on land.
He also has argues that he has an eye on the future: the changes are expected to make it easier for young people to get a start as commerical fishermen. If the seas are as rich as he believes, then teaching the young how to fish could help feed Greenland for a lifetime.