Power and Participation in Greenlandic Fisheries Governance


Fishing and hunting is exceptionally important to Greenlandic lives. Today, the Greenlandic marine ecosystem is very productive and sustains fisheries (primarily shrimp, Greenland halibut, cod and crab) that contribute 83% of Greenland’s total export value (Greenland Statistics, 2010a). It is widely documented that the harvesting, sharing, buying and consumption of marine resources are intimately bound to many Greenlanders lived experience and their reflections on who they are (Dahl, 2000; Olsen, 2010; Golhar et al, 2010; Nuttall, 2000; Rasing, 2000). A recent manifestation of this interconnection is seen in the fact that the Greenlandic National Museum chose Greenlandic food as its first focus for safeguarding its intangible cultural heritage (Olsen; 2010). Human use of the Greenlandic marine ecosystem presents a complex mosaic of small- and large-scale, subsistence and commercial fishing and hunting activities. In Greenland as well as in other parts of the world, human use of marine resources is subjected to governance.
An assumption behind this study is that the way marine resources are regulated through the governance of human behaviour has ecological and social implications and that fisheries governance institutions therefore matters and merits investigation. A second assumption is that power matters for outcome.
This study is therefore concerned with practices of power and participation within Greenlandic fisheries governance. Greenlandic governance institutions have been criticised for their colonial heritage of centralisation and lack of democratic participation (Winther (ed.), 2003). In the same manner, Greenlandic fisheries management has been criticized in the academic literature for its centralised and locally illegitimate character. The history of Greenlandic fisheries management is that of a nation state taking over the ownership and responsibility of managing natural resource use from local communities. Fisheries management thus plays a central role in the history of Greenlandic nation building. According to Dahl (2000) limited access regimes together with local practices and thus the reproduction of local social and cultural systems have been undermined in this process. Within the period of nation state fisheries management the tendency has been one of introducing more and more regulatory measures to a national open access-paradigm and subjecting more and more species to centralised and expert TAC control (Rasmussen 1998). Its illegitimate character from a local point of view has been pinpointed by other scholars (Sejersen 2007).
While recognising the lack of localised co-management fisheries governance institutions in Greenland, this study claims that something has yet to be said about power and user participation in the centralised governance institutions that have developed. This study presents further inquiry into what is then actually going on in the ‘centre’. Through my 1st year of study I have found that the centre is packed with a wide cast of actors that seek to influence the centralised decision-making. And I have been investigating whether it makes sense to speak of a Greenlandic fisheries co-politics. At the same time, the fisheries governance institutions in Greenland may very well be in a(nother) state of transition as fundamental changes to the governance institutions are currently being debated and sought implemented. A new fisheries law has long been negotiated where profound changes in access and use rights are being debated. A structural reform of the coastal halibut fishery is under construction which will introduce ITQ regime into the Greenland halibut coastal fishery. These new governance institutions may have profound effects on other institutions such as the construction of rights to the resource as well as enforcement mechanisms. A basic assumption of this study is that the outcome of these processes will have diverse effects on different groups of stakeholders. For this reason most of all, I have decided that the most interesting approach to studying these construction of these new institutions is to study them in terms of power and participation.
The over-arching research question is this:
How do power relations between stakeholders emerge, persist and change as they participate in Greenland’s centralized governance institutions?
The theoretical framework interacts with the theoretical traditions of practice theory, governmentality theory, interactive governance theory and collective action theory. The methodology I have chosen is primarily of a qualitative character as the study is concerned with human interaction and meaning construction. It is based on long-term field-work in Nuuk with a special emphasis on participant observation in the everyday work of Greenlandic fisheries governance institutions.
Effective start/end date01/09/200918/12/2014


  • Greenland Climate Research Centre


nation state
action theory
cultural system
structural reform
environmental behavior
open access
social behavior


  • Social effects
  • Symbolic effects
  • Economic effects
  • Marine resources
  • Greenlandic Fisheries Governance
  • Human behaviours
  • Fisheries
  • Property rights
  • Participation
  • surveillance