Vancouver, B.C. and Cambridge Bay, NU – As part of an increased focus on small-scale Canadian fisheries, Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise program has assessed and now recommends Arctic char from a fishery near Cambridge Bay, Nunavut. The science-based assessment is the fourth Ocean Wise in-house seafood assessment that has been conducted, following gooseneck barnacles, Pacific octopus and Chedabucto Bay shrimp.
The report assesses fisheries in four waterways near Cambridge Bay on Victoria Island and covers approximately 44 per cent of the total Arctic char that is commercially harvested in Canada. This is also the first assessment for wild-caught Arctic char in the world, and the first assessment for a fishery based entirely in the Arctic Ocean.
“In 2015, Ocean Wise made a decision to spotlight the unique and sustainable fisheries we have from coast to coast to coast. With the completion of the Arctic char report we have touched on all three of Canada’s oceans,” said Laurenne Schiller, research analyst at Ocean Wise and author of the report. “This fishery uses temporary weirs to catch the char whenever possible. These weirs are very low impact and pose virtually no threat to the surrounding habitat or other marine life. They’re effectively a modern spin on traditional Inuit weirs, which were made of stones and were used to catch char in the region hundreds of years ago.”
Although commercial fishing for Arctic char dates back to 1960, local Inuit communities have harvested it for subsistence likely for centuries, and they continue to be a key source of protein in Nunavut. Over the last five decades, the fishery has expanded in range but has always been managed through annual quotas and license controls. Today, fishing occurs in four main freshwater systems in the area surrounding the community of Cambridge Bay: Ekalluktok River, Halokvik River, Paliryuak River; and Jayko River. The quota system is river-specific in order to ensure that the stocks in each waterway remain healthy.
To make a recommendation for wild capture assessments, Ocean Wise uses four criteria: impacts of the fishery on the stock in question, impacts of the fishery on other species, effectiveness of management and impacts on habitat and ecosystem.
In addition to weirs, some char are also caught using gillnets. Due to the remote nature of the fishery, fishers will spend upward of a month at a given site catching fish, which are then shipped by float plane to Kitikmeot Foods in Cambridge Bay for processing.
“Wild Arctic char is more than just a fish here—it’s a way of living,” says Stéphan Lacasse, general manager at Kitikmeot Foods. “It’s an emblem of our culture here in Nunavut, and an important part of our diet and health. This fishery has modernized traditional fishing methods that allow us to share the bounty of our beautiful North and provide Canadians with Ocean Wise recommended Arctic char.”
Char have the northernmost distribution of any freshwater fish, and fish caught near Cambridge Bay are distributed to both the Canadian and U.S. markets; Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal are currently the primary destinations for these char in Canada. Naturally, factors such as weather, transportation cost and fluctuating demand can play a role in its availability in markets outside of Nunavut.
The fish is a favourite among chefs who enjoy it for its delicate flavour, which is often likened to salmon or trout.
“Arctic char is one of my favorite fish to cook,” said Ned Bell, Ocean Wise executive chef and sustainable seafood ambassador. “Its clean and delicate flesh lends itself well to baking, roasting and pan searing. Think sweet, caramelized, buttery citrus flavours. It’s mild in taste and dense in texture and because of the cold waters has a natural richness that I love.”
Vancouver Aquarium Ocean Wise®
Overfishing is the single biggest threat our oceans face today. With more than 700 partners across Canada, Ocean Wise makes it easy for consumers to make sustainable seafood choices that ensure the health of our oceans for generations to come. The Ocean Wise symbol next to a seafood item is the Vancouver Aquarium’s assurance of an ocean-friendly seafood choice. www.oceanwise.ca.
Editor’s Note: A b-roll package and the full assessment are available on request.