A Great trip to the Great Northern Peninsula

I’m still wondering how the fisheries and coastal communities in two countries such far and different from each other as Canada and Japan, can have so much in common and be facing similar challenges. There must be a lot to share and learn from each other.

Yinji Li, Visiting Professor, Tokai University, Japan

This past month, I had a great opportunity to travel to Great Northern Peninsula (hereinafter referred to as “GNP”), the largest and longest peninsula in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. Apart from the extreme excitement of experiencing totally different coastal landscapes from the Northeast Asia where I usually conduct my research, I was fortunate to interact with local communities and people through both an engagement session organized there, but also through valuable time exploring the area by having meals and visiting places together with local people. As an expression of gratitude to the great people I’ve met on the peninsula, I would like to share some thoughts towards the future of GNP from the regional revitalization perspective through my point of view as a stranger and total outsider participating at the engagement session that was held on July 17, 2019 at the College of North Atlantic, St. Anthony. Learn more about by Jack Daly's master's research in the region as a Memorial University student funded by Too Big To Ignore, Ocean Frontier Institute, and the Harris Centre, and supervised by Dr. Ratana Chuenpagdee.

Abundant Regional Resources I See

I have a habit of exploring and categorizing the resources of the regions whenever I visit local communities. This time was no exception, I couldn’t help but keep exploring during my stay in the peninsula. The classification of regional resource depends on the purposes of the regional development or the resource management (Mese et al., 1990); here for the convenience, I categorized them based on the nature of resource, namely, natural, non-natural, tangible, and intangible. It was not difficult to find out that GNP has abundant and attractive resources including natural and cultural ones as roughly illustrated in the table below.

The following resources are distinctive and noteworthy. The local fish species including cods, northern shrimps, seals etc. and various wildlife as natural and tangible resources; coastal community landscapes, dock sceneries, iceberg festivals as natural and intangible resources; Viking site, traditional houses, flipper pies, cod tongue/capelin dishes, fishing traps/vessels, the Great Viking Feast as non-natural and tangible resources; Vikings history, fishermen’s stories, seal fisheries, fishing methods, local knowledges, people’s passion/efforts as non-natural and intangible resources. Most importantly, I was deeply convinced that those who share special feelings and love for the region are vital resources and the treasures of GNP in themselves, with the engagement session being full of such people.

Abundant Regional Potential I Feel

After confirming and reaffirming such regional resources, the next important step would be to design how to utilize the resources or to maximize the value of the resources. In that process, there could be the methods such as 1) use resources as it is or use with current usage; 2) use resources with different usages; 3) use unused resources. Among them, the 2) and 3) are generally considered as value creation of regional resources (Lou, 2006). And this has always been my favourite part of the field research, exploring both already-done value creations and potential value creations.

For instance, to name a few of the former ones (and I am sure I am not the first one that recognizes them), the iceberg festival is a fine value creation in which it alters the nature of icebergs from a natural and tangible resource to a cultural and intangible resource. In that sense, the Great Viking Feast restaurant should also be noted. It amazingly alters the historical resource (Vikings history) to a tourism resource and entertains people in a great way. Also, the cod skin usage regarding collagen/cosmetics production as well as bags/wallets productions is another value creation I found very attractive. The cod skins utilized were previously unused/unwanted and are now splendid regional resources.

Obviously, such ideas and inspirations are further needed in maximizing the value of regional resources in the future. What I felt was wasteful in particular is that there are not many value creation activities that can be found regarding the local fishery, especially considering the fishery is a very important regional industry that is important to the GNP’s identity and history. I don’t want to go into the detail theories, but it should be realized that utilizing fishery related resources and maximizing its values will play an important role in sustaining fishery itself as well as the coastal communities. Off the top of my head, switching the nature of the resources from fishery resources to tourism or educational resources, the potential value creations could include sightseeing tours guided by fishermen, fishing boat cruises, traditional fishery experiencing tours, fish cutting/cooking/processing classes, lunch/afternoon teas at traditional fishermen’s houses etc. However, it must be noted that these are only some of the typical examples given in here and I feel that there are abundant potentials and possibilities in revitalizing GNP depending on the ingenuity. 

Key Challenges Towards a Great Future

Needless to say, a great future can’t simply be created by abundant resources and ideas/inspirations. Here, I’d like to suggest some key challenges towards the future of GNP and bring this thought piece to an end.

I must say that my first impression was the contrast between a small-scale community and a big processing plant when I visited one of the northern coves. Among a humble-scale region like GNP which consists of many small-scale communities with only around 13,000 people in total, there are only a few larger-scale processing plants which are run by major companies that buy all fisheries catch from fishermen without any auction/bidding systems. Putting aside the concern that the generated profits won’t remain much in the region as it’s often been pointed out regarding such cases, it also seemed a problem area to me that the values of the fish are not necessarily estimated properly as fishermen are selling the fish at a fixed price decided by a certain organization, that is, lack of the system where fishermen can bring up the fish price by making their efforts. Additionally, considering the current fisheries governing system in which the fish quotas are allocated to fishermen from the government sector, I felt fishermen in GNP are in an extremely vulnerable position where there is nothing much they can decide on their own. I argue that such a situation is also limiting the effectiveness of fishery management.         

Therefore, towards better resource management and better revitalization of the region, a certain level of independent-minded rights should be given to fishermen. Here I’d like to purposefully mention the well-known principle for managing the common pool resource, that is, “Make sure the rule-making rights of community members are respected by outside authorities” (Ostrom, 1990). The ones that manage fishery resources and regional resources should be the fishermen and community people themselves as they are the ones who will suffer most from resource depletion, environmental destructions and global changes, and therefore have the highest incentives to sustain the resources; not to mention their abundant on-site knowledges and experiences. In the current circumstances, it’s hard to erase the impression that the communities are not able to respond properly to the resource/environmental changes or the top-down oriented policy changes and so unavoidably undergo negative impacts.

Other challenges could be developing both product-out strategies and market-in strategies. The former one includes improvement of fish prices, formation of a regional market that allows small-scale buyers, introducing bidding systems, branding activities, diversification of distribution channels including online sales etc., the latter one includes running direct sales stores, fishermen-owned fish restaurants, small-scale guest houses, various experience-based tours etc. In addition, I felt it was a shame that the only place where people visiting GNP can buy fish and seafood is a large supermarket chain, which makes no difference from what is being offered in larger metropolitan areas.     

Most importantly, the challenge would be to form and strengthen the organization at community level – an issue that I felt may be a bit weak on the GNP. If I need to single out one significant factor for securing sustainability of small-scale fisheries/fishing communities and revitalizing coastal communities, my answer would definitely be strengthening the fishermen’s and community organizations. Even in a socially rich environment for fishermen in Japan (e.g. fishermen's side possess the high priority with fishery rights in coastal use), we still see many fishing communities or fishery households not doing well if they lack a good and healthy organization. On the other hand, if you find a fishing community with high economic viability as well as high visibility, you can always find a good organization supporting them.

Lastly, I’d also like to mention the importance of international exchange. I’m still wondering how the fisheries and coastal communities in two countries such far and different from each other as Canada and Japan, can have so much in common and be facing similar challenges. There must be a lot to share and learn from each other. 

Acknowledgements

This trip was supported by the Too Big to Ignore (TBTI)- Global Partnership for Small-Scale Fisheries Research as well as funding secured through the Harris Centre’s Sustainable Northern Coastal Communities Applied Research Fund. I wish to express my sincere thanks to Prof. Ratana Chuenpagdee, the TBTI project director. Also, special thanks to Jack Daly for English editing to this thought piece.

References

Elinor Ostrom, 1990. Governing the commons: the evolution of institutions for collective action, Cambridge University Press, pp. 280.
Morio Mese et al., 1990. The management science of regional resource, Meibun Shobo, pp 21. (in Japanese)
Xiaobo Lou, 2005. Formation of the regional resource and the value creation, Aqua-net. (in Japanese)
Yinji Li, 2017. See what sea natures: The past and present stories in Higashihazu, Research Institute for Humanity and Nature, pp 39. (in Japanese) http://archives-contents.chikyu.ac.jp/3703/Hagukumi_a.pdf.

Written by: Dr. Yinji Li, Visiting Professor at Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's, Canada, from Tokai University, Japan