Hunting plays an important role in Greenlandic society. The input to the formal economy from hunting has decreased over the years, but nevertheless remains a valuable contribution to the economy of many households. Hunting products complement formal sources of income and constitute an important source of nutrients in many families. Variations in the size and occurrence of populations of hunted species as a consequence of climate changes will have a great impact and can trigger the need for adaptation to new conditions.
Many hunters are already experiencing the effects of climate change in their daily lives and have proven capable of adapting to new conditions. Nevertheless, mechanisms of change, such as climate change and the growing industrialisation of society are anticipated to make new demands on the continued capacity of hunters to adapt in the future. The report, Opportunities for Climate Adaptation in the Fishing and Hunting Profession from 2012, prepared on behalf of the Minister for Housing, Infrastructure and Transport and the Minister for Fisheries, Hunting and Agriculture in collaboration with a number of stakeholders1, points to some of the challenges the profession is expected to face in the future and makes a list of the opportunities that might support people engaged in hunting, as they face a future characterised by climatic change. In the same way as is the case for fishing, it should be noted that management decisions and societal development are considered to have a potentially greater impact on the future of hunting than climate change.
Considering the effects of climate change, the thinning of sea ice and reduction in ice and snow coverage, resulting from rising temperatures, is anticipated to have most significant impact on hunting conditions. A large part of hunting takes place by snowmobile or dog sleigh. In these cases, a changing climate is likely to lead to increasing difficulty in accessing some areas, greater unpredictability and a growing risk associated with moving on the ice in certain periods of the year.
The hunted species, many of which are already regulated by quotas are affected more by management decisions than by climate change, even though the prevalence and distribution of these populations are expected to change as a consequence of climate change. Caribou is of special significance to many hunters and is considered likely to be affected by changes in temperature and precipitation. In the same manner, the polar bear is affected by a changing climate. The retreating sea ice can limit its opportunities for finding food, and a decreasing population has already resulted in significantly reduced hunting quotas. For seals, whose living conditions are closely tied to the ice, the retreat of sea ice may necessitate further hunting regulations and restrictions. Some species of whale, such as the fin whale and the humpback whale, remain in the Arctic until the sea ice forms. These species are expected to prolong their stay in the region and move towards more northern areas as the extent of sea ice is reduced. Other species of whales are not directly dependent on sea ice and hence, it is primarily changes in the occurrence of prey species resulting from rising sea temperatures that are anticipated to have an impact. For most species, predictions of future changes in populations are bound by significant uncertainty and a lot will depend on how management is executed and enforced.
Finally, a changing climate and thinner sea ice coverage can have the implication of increasing isolation of some settlements, as the sea ice here constitutes the main route of connection to larger populated areas. In the climate adaptation report from 2012, it is noted that this can lead to an increasing depopulation of villages and settlements – a trend that is already recognised, but which is affected by many other factors than simply a changing climate.
All together, climate change combined with a multiplicity of other variables, is expected to have considerable impact on future conditions and prospects for the hunting profession in Greenland. Hunting as a primary occupation will most likely decrease even further, while conditions for leisure hunters will change. The report on climate adaptation points to the importance of initiating adaptation initiatives aimed at supporting the capacity of professional hunters, enhancing their resilience and preparing them for a future characterised by unpredictability and change.
1 The working group consisted of representatives from the Ministry for Fisheries, Hunting and Agriculture, the Ministry for Housing, Infrastructure and the Environment (Office for Climate and Energy), the Greenland Fishing License Authority, the Ministry for Domestics Affairs, Nature and the Environment, KNAPK (the Association of Fishermen and Hunters in Greenland) and the Greenland Climate Research Centre.