If you thought food prices were out of control in your hometown, try shopping up north.
Record inflation is sending food prices skyrocketing in Canada’s northernmost communities, prompting local hunters and anglers to take drastic measures to meet growing needs.
“It’s very expensive – gas, even the price of hunting gear is going up,” said Kowmagiak Mitsima, a fisherman from Iqaluit.
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Mitsima grew up fishing for arctic char, beluga and seal in the Sylvia Grinnell River. Anything they couldn’t eat themselves, they shared with their friends and extended family.
“Some of them don’t have hunters in the family and some of them are elders,” he told Global News. “We share a lot. And I’m not the only one – lots of other hunters do this.
But this long-standing Inuit tradition of sharing its catch has quickly become a lifeline for the remote northern town of Mitsima.
Long before the current inflationary crisis, Iqaluit was already home to some of the country’s most expensive foods. Its long, cold winters and short, cool summers produce limited vegetation and mean that food must be shipped from the south.
There are no roads or railroads in Nunavut; goods can only reach communities by air or – when the Arctic Ocean thaws – by sea, leading to significant fuel costs and sticker shock at local grocery stores.
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Global News recently visited an Iqaluit food market to find some items selling at two or even three times the national average. A 10-pound bag of potatoes costs about $15; it’s almost $22 for a kilogram of ground beef; and a four-liter jug of milk costs more than $8, $2 more than the national average.
As a result, Mitsima and other hunters are now donating their surplus meat to the Qajuqturvik Community Food Centre. The charity launched a Country Food Box program earlier this year, which provides donations of frozen meat – from arctic char to caribou – as well as other food items. Compared to last year, the demand for food donations in Iqaluit has doubled.
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“So we have to look for other sources,” said Harry Flaherty, president of Qikiqtaaluk Corporation, an Inuit-owned development company.
To that end, Flaherty’s team recently acquired a $2.6 million research vessel to search for new inshore fishing grounds. Named Ludy Pudluk, after the territory’s longtime politician and climate change activist who died in 2019, the catamaran was built with funding from several federal government agencies, including the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency ( also known as CanNor) and the Government of Nunavut.
Nunavut covers about 1.9 million square kilometers and accounts for about 40% of Canada’s coastline, but the territory’s inshore fisheries have long been hampered by low profit margins, inadequate marine infrastructure and a lack of baseline data.
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Hoping to help fill this void, the research vessel has been outfitted with million-dollar marine research technology, including underwater cameras, a transducer that uses sound frequencies to collect data and cages that can go down to 300 meters deep.
Combining this advanced technology with traditional knowledge, Ludy Pudluk set out for the first time last year from St. John’s, Newfoundland, to map the ocean floor in the Qikiqtani region of Nunavut, traveling the unexplored seabed in search of new coastal fishing grounds.
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“What we saw was amazing,” Flaherty said.
On the seabed, they discovered an abundance of sea life: from sea urchins and sea cucumbers, to scallops and shrimp, to clams and cod. Local fishermen had seen the species for years in the stomachs of whales and seals in the area, but never knew where they came from.
“We were very pleasantly surprised,” said Jerry Ward, director of fisheries at Qikiqtaaluk Corp. “While we knew a lot of species were present, we certainly had no idea how much.
“It’s a tremendous resource. This will greatly increase the diet of different communities.
Coordinates will be shared with local communities, so they can be fished sustainably, in hopes of providing a new source of food to meet growing needs. Ward says they are collaborating with local hunters and trappers associations and training local Inuit to conduct the research themselves, hoping the results will create new food sources as well as new jobs.
“It could be a complete game-changer for the development of coastal fisheries.”
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