Fisheries are of paramount importance to employment and export in Greenland. The industry is responsible for more than 85% of the country’s export and helps to reduce the dependence on imported food. On a national level, more than one fifth of the workforce is employed in fisheries and related industries.


The export of shrimp, halibut, cod and crab make a significant contribution to the Greenlandic economy. In total, Greenland’s export of fish products amounts to approximately 2 billion DKK. Falling shrimp prices have put fisheries under pressure in recent years. At the same time, overfishing and declining levels of shrimp in Greenlandic waters have led to a reduction of the shrimp quota by 25% from 2012 to 2013.


The Impact of Climate Change

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, summarises some of those areas in which a changing climate is expected to impact fisheries in Greenland. Climate change is likely to affect shrimp fisheries and to lead to a decline in the total amount of shrimp in Greenlandic waters. This is in part because of an increase in sea temperatures and in part because those same temperature increases are expected to boost the occurrence of cod, which feed on shrimp. Hence, a main concern, not just for fisheries, but for the Greenlandic national economy in general, is how climate change will affect the interaction between shrimp and cod in the future.


The anticipated effects of climate change vary significantly depending on the species of shellfish or fish. While cod populations and other species of fish are expected to grow as a consequence of increasing sea temperatures, the occurrence of shrimp, krill and other smaller crustaceans is affected by the expected sea temperature rise of 1-4° C. The relative occurence of different species is interdependent and as a consequence only small variations in sea temperatures are needed to effect great change in fish and shellfish populations.


In many cases, management is expected to play a large role in the future sustainability of Greenlandic fisheries overall, perhaps even a greater role than climate change itself. In the case of cod, successful management of the population combined with the expected positive effects from climate change can potentially lead to a marked increase in its prevalence. An optimistic scenario, which is included in the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment from 2005 estimates a reduction of shrimp fisheries to about 20,000 tonnes per year over the next 50 years, while the cod population can potentially reach an annual yield of 300,000 tonnes leading to a 28% increase in Greenland’s GDP. This would imply a reduction in the shrimp quota of 75% from 2013 and an increase in cod fisheries of 2500%. A moderate scenario suggests a 6% increase in GDP and it should therefore be stressed that projections of this kind are associated by significant uncertainty2


A Need for Climate Adaptation

The climate adaptation report from 2012 lists a number of possibilities for the future development of fisheries in Greenland. It is mentioned that a transformation of the industry might be necessary in response to the expected effects of climate change. A shift from shrimp to cod fisheries will impact what fishing equipment and production facilities will be needed and will place new demands on the acquisition and accumulation of knowledge of fisheries.


Possible changes are characterised by significant uncertainty. Hence, the climate adaptation report highlights the need to make fisheries more resilient to the changes that an altered climate may present. Here, ability to adapt will be of the utmost importance. Special attention has been placed on expanding the information available for fishermen and fisheries managers with regard to the climatic conditions and processes that affect Greenlandic waters. This will facilitate flexible and continuous adaptation to fluctuations in species’ populations and ensure a sustainable rate of harvest in the future.


The complexity of many marine ecosystems requires an enhanced research effort that is better able to predict different climate scenarios and what they may imply for the future of Greenland’s fisheries. Finally, in a reality characterised by climate change, the establishment of an appropriate management strategy with the aim of maintaining a biologically and economically sustainable fishing industry in the future is of the utmost importance. For this to come true, it is vital that all stakeholders are involved in the decision-making processes and that the fishermen take an active part in necessary reforms.

1 The working group consisted of representatives from the Ministry for Fisheries, Hunting and Agriculture, the Ministry for Housing, Infrastructure and Transportation (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.


2 ACIA, 2005. Arctic Climate Impact Assessment. Cambridge University Press. s. 728-9.


If you would like to know more...

The Greenland Climate Research Centre

The Greenland Institute of Natural Resources

The Department of Fish and Shellfish

Arctic Climate Impact Assessment

Global Weirding

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