Fisheries are an important economic driver for coastal, rural and remote communities throughout Canada. For many societies, fisheries are embedded in social and cultural life, connecting livelihoods with personal identity and history. Sustainable management is important to ensure fisheries can continue to exist in this way, but the fishing industry is widely acknowledged to be a complex social-ecological system, meaning management can be difficult (Bavinck et al. 2018; Vigliano Relva and Jung 2021). One possible way forward to is to include more collaborative and participatory approaches. Despite this, most marine fisheries in Canada are managed in a top-down manner by the federal government under the authorities outlined in the Fisheries Act (Government of Canada 2019). This has led to numerous tensions between communities and the government, notably between Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) and Indigenous Peoples. Top down, command, and control approaches to fisheries have been criticized as a colonial force that shifts power away from local people, leading to the exclusion of local and Indigenous knowledge systems, inequitable and neoliberal decision-making, and increasing dependence on the state (Berkes et al. 2000; Jentoft 2007; Lalancette 2017; McMillan and Prosper 2016).

Community-based approaches have risen to prominence in fisheries governance over the last few decades as decision makers have recognized the importance of local perspectives for managing commercial fisheries, and Indigenous Peoples have pursued their right to self-determination. Fishers have advocated for the benefits of more collaborative decision-making practices, and one way policymakers have responded is by sharing responsibilities through co-management—a form of participatory governance. There is variety in what people include under the umbrella of “co-management,” but it is generally defined as formal arrangements between the state and community for the management of common pool resources (Carlsson and Berkes 2005). Canada has recognized the importance of this move towards decentralized governance by including language to promote co-management in law, such as Sect. 4.1 of the Fisheries Act, which enables the minister to use co-management to facilitate cooperation, communication, and participation in fisheries management and conservation (R.S.C. 1985, c. F-14). One form of co-management arrangement that is unique to Indigenous-Crown agreements has been reached through treaties, or land claim agreements.

Comprehensive land claim agreements (CLCAs) are a form of treaty used by Indigenous Peoples and the Canadian government to negotiate rights and responsibilities on traditional territories. They are particularly used in northern Canada, where treaties were not historically negotiated. Co-management boards are generally formed through land claim agreements between Federal and Provincial/Territorial governments, and an Indigenous Peoples’ representative organization. The co-management boards created through land claim processes represent a unique kind of co-management because they are constitutionally protected, based on Indigenous rights, and they ensure greater representation of Indigenous interests in resource governance (White 2020). Broadly speaking, co-management is seen as a tool for creating more just and equitable forms of fisheries governance (Snook et al. 2018), and for creating more locally relevant and well-informed outcomes (Armitage et al. 2009; Gutiérrez et al. 2011; Pomeroy and Berkes 1997).

The Torngat Joint Fisheries Board (TJFB) is one such co-management arrangement that focuses on commercial fisheries management in Nunatsiavut, a land claim area in northern Labrador, Canada. The TJFB was formed under the Labrador Inuit Land Claim Agreement (LILCA) in 2005 and is made up of appointees from the Nunatsiavut government, the federal and provincial governments. The TJFB conducts research and submits recommendations to the Minister of DFO concerning the conservation and management of commercial fish species in the waters within and adjacent to Nunatsiavut (LILCA 2005). Land claim–based co-management has a significant impact on how Indigenous sovereignty operates and how it will evolve into the future. This research examines how the TJFB work contributes to fisheries governance in the region, and subsequently, how co-management is placed in terms of supporting greater self-determination for Indigenous Peoples in resource governance.

The TJFB plays a role in commercial fisheries management in Nunatsiavut, and the formal legality of the LILCA provides an opportunity for Labrador Inuit to significantly influence decision-making in this area of natural resource management. It is therefore important to understand how boards may use that opportunity to their advantage to influence fisheries governance, and what opportunities may exist to enable greater self-determination for Indigenous communities from within this structure. To explore these questions, this research examines the meeting minutes from TJFB board meetings and from the Annual Fisheries Workshop between 2010 and 2021 to elucidate in what ways the TJFB influences fisheries governance in Nunatsiavut, and to understand their potential to affect change in the region. This paper will answer the following research questions: (1)  in what activities does the TJFB engage, and how has its engagement changed over time? and (2) how is the TJFB positioned to support the advancement of Nunatsiavut self-determination in fisheries governance? Examining meeting minutes from over a decade of board meetings and workshops is an opportunity to understand the process of social learning that is inherent in co-management. By looking at the meeting minutes, we have an opportunity to understand how the land claim agreement is interpreted and enacted in the world, in practical terms. This is not generally a transparent aspect of land claim–based co-management, so this research provides new insights from co-management in practice. This paper illuminates some of the pathways co-management can take to support greater representation from Indigenous Peoples, what improvements can be made, and what barriers remain.


Co-management and power sharing in comprehensive land claim agreements

One of the most significant developments in Canadian governance in the past 50 years has been the creation of CLCAs across Inuit Nunangat (the homelands of Inuit in what is currently known as Canada). Almost all CLCAs in Canada include legislation for the creation of some sort of co-management arrangement. Management boards are formed to guide planning and inform regulatory decisions and are comprised of appointees from the land claim representative organization, the federal government, and the provincial or territorial government. Co-management boards are usually concerned with wildlife management, but some focus on land use planning, environmental assessment, permitting, and arbitration (White 2020). In the commercial fishing industry, boards set policy and develop policy recommendations that are submitted to the appropriate federal minister.

Whether co-management has created more equitable power sharing for Indigenous Peoples is still much debated in the literature. Some scholars suggest that co-management boards can be considered examples of Canadian treaty federalism, that is, a meeting of 3 constitutionally ratified governments coming together in decision-making (White 2020). This, however, is somewhat complicated by the fact that the Crown maintains power by reserving a final veto to accept or reject the recommendations, which may in some cases reduce the influence of the management boards “to mere consultation” (King 2015). Viewed through this normative lens, it is difficult work for co-management boards to exercise power while decision-making authority rests with a federal minister. Carlsson and Berkes (2005) counter this argument by suggesting that co-management should be understood beyond its formal arrangements “as a continuous problem-solving process” (pp. 65). In this framing, co-management agreements are not the end in themselves, but a means to work towards power sharing. This can be considered a kind of soft power, one that is wielded through influence and relationships, rather than through formal legal channels. While a land claim agreement outlines the structures and responsibilities of co-management arrangements, it does not provide information about how those responsibilities are interpreted or enacted nor can it provide insight into how the interpretations have changed over time. Co-management is in fact a form of governance, which requires institution-building and a complex set of actors who negotiate and implement practices, conduct research, and evaluate progress (Borrini-Feyerabend et al. 2013). Using this framing, it is important to examine how co-management operates in practice, and how it has evolved over time.

Commercial fisheries in Nunatsiavut

In northern Labrador, Inuit became politically organized in the 1950s and 1960s, galvanized by the expansion of mining projects, the presence of a military base and testing sites, and the forced relocation of Inuit, among other colonial activities that were rapidly changing their lives (Rennie 2010; Evans 2012). The Labrador Inuit Association was formed in 1973 to act as a political leader to have Inuit rights recognized in the region. In 1977, they filed a claim with the federal government of Canada for rights over their traditional lands and waters, and the resulting Labrador Inuit Land Claim Agreement (LILCA) was ratified in 2005 (Pedersen 2016). The land claim area is called Nunatsiavut, and it spans 16,000 km2 along the coast of Northern Labrador (see a map at Fig. 1). Labrador Inuit also negotiated harvesting rights to an additional 44,000 km2 of Labrador.

Fig. 1
figure 1

Map of the Labrador Inuit Settlement Area and adjacent fisheries management zones, including shrimp fishing areas (SFAs) and Northern Management Units. Map created by Shawn Rivoire, Torngat Secretariat

Because of the long history of colonization and marginalization, it was an uphill battle for Labrador Inuit to regain some control over their fisheries (Snook et al. 2018). Recognizing this, the Labrador Inuit Association negotiated access to commercial fisheries management in the land claim agreement, the first time that commercial fishing rights were established through a CLCA in Canada (Andersen 2009). Through the implementation of the LILCA, the Labrador Inuit Association created governing institutions, which have been essential in allowing communities to re-enter the commercial fisheries as co-managers. Like many CLCAs, the LILCA also established co-management boards to manage renewable resources, including the TJFB.

There are five commercial fisheries currently in operation in Nunatsiavut: Snow crab, Northern shrimp, Greenland halibut (Turbot), Icelandic scallop and Arctic char. Snow crab, shrimp, and turbot are processed and then largely sold overseas, while the commercial Arctic char and scallop fisheries remain almost entirely within Labrador and are sold out of the Torngat Cooperative office in Happy Valley Goose Bay and distributed to community freezers in the region (Watts 2019).

In Nunatsiavut, the fishery co-management board is one player within a complex system of organizations with jurisdiction over the fishing industry. Three independent institutions act on behalf of LILCA beneficiaries concerning fisheries management and conservation: the TJFB, the Torngat Fish Producers Cooperative Society, and the Nunatsiavut Government. An additional group, the Nunatsiavut Group of Companies (NGC), also has important economic investments in regional fisheries. For the purposes of this paper, we refer to these organizations and the fishers as “stakeholders” to distinguish them from the general population of Nunatsiavut, all of whom can be considered rights holders in the fishing industry. These stakeholders are directly affected by the commercial fisheries, either through employment or investment in the industry.

The TJFB is concerned with the management of commercial fisheries for the land claim. It is composed of three appointees from the Nunatsiavut government, two from the federal government, and one from the provincial government of Newfoundland and Labrador (Torngat Wildlife, Plants and Fisheries Secretariat 2015). The TJFB makes recommendations to Fisheries and Oceans Canada pertaining to the conservation of species and management of commercial fisheries within the Labrador Inuit Settlement Area (LISA) (LILCA 13.11.1).

Local managers and harvesters themselves have always managed the fisheries with a strong commitment to returning the benefits of the fishery to the communities of Nunatsiavut, and they are hyper aware that the decisions they make have impacts on Nunatsiavut’s communities and, more specifically, for the Inuit fishers (Foley et al. 2017).


To understand the activities that the TJFB undertakes, this research analyzes meeting minutes from TJFB meetings and annual fisheries workshops. The meeting minutes were provided by the Torngat Secretariat and are publicly available by request. Because the data is all secondary public data, research ethics was not required for this work.

Content analysis was performed on 436 pages of meeting minute documentation. We use an interpretive, emergent approach to content analysis to identify the characteristics and meaning of the meeting minutes (Cho and Lee 2014). Content analysis is a method for making inferences about large amounts of data, especially textual data that has not been produced for the specific purpose of research (Drisko and Maschi 2016). The meeting minutes are collected from a period of 12 years, from 2010 to 2021, which also allowed for reflection on how the TJFB has changed over time. Two types of meetings were analyzed. The first is the regular meetings held by board members. The second is the Annual Fisheries Workshop, a meeting that takes place once a year at which all Nunatsiavut fisheries stakeholders are invited to participate and share information. These two meetings represent the only recorded, and formal spaces in which the TJFB formulates decisions, recommendations, and directs activities.

Torngat Joint Fisheries Board meeting minutes

The TJFB board meeting minutes were analyzed using inductive, thematic coding using NVivo™ 12 software. Qualitative content theory uses thematic analysis to allow text to be organized into codes with similar content (Cho and Lee 2014). These themes or categories emerge from the data in a systematic coding process. Multiple rounds of coding were used to generate a comprehensive list of codes that reflected the activities undertaken by the TJFB. In the initial stage of analysis, a long list of activities identified in the meeting minutes was generated. Particular attention was paid to the various activities that the board undertakes during the meetings and the topics of discussion that arise during the meetings. These activities were then collapsed into categories of thematically similar activities (Chun Tie et al. 2019). A final round of coding was performed to verify these categories and to place each activity into the appropriate theme.

Annual Fisheries Workshop

The TJFB also hosts annual general meetings, called the “Annual Fisheries Workshop.” These workshops are the only formal, recorded instance where all the fisheries stakeholders assemble to discuss the fisheries. It was therefore determined that these meetings provide an important window into how stakeholders, particularly fishers, participate in fisheries governance in the region. The TJFB uses these meetings as a way of encouraging communication between all stakeholders, and they also bring in representatives from DFO and other provincial and federal agencies as an opportunity to ask questions and provide feedback in a public setting. The TJFB funds the meeting every year, including supporting fishers who need to travel from other communities to attend. It is framed by TJFB as a chance to share information from the previous year, as well as administrative or legal changes in the year to come. It is an essential source of information for the TJFB. We use the workshop meeting minutes to investigate how regional actors contribute to the TJFB’s work by examining their participation in the meetings.

In addition to having access to the recorded minutes, the lead author attended the workshop meeting in 2019, 2021, and 2022. Observation of the interactions in-person by the lead author gave some context to the information recorded in the workshop meeting minutes. The second author has attended the workshops and board meetings since 2009, giving them a deep knowledge of the interactions and context of the meeting. The third author also attended the workshop in 2022.

These workshops are the only formal, recorded instance where all the fishery stakeholders assemble to discuss the fisheries. It was therefore determined that these meetings provide an important window into how stakeholders, particularly designates and fishers, participate in fisheries governance in the region. This data was used to investigate how regional actors contribute to the TJFB’s work.

The workshops were analyzed using the software NVivo™ 12. The minutes were coded first to identify the actors involved in the meetings. Every meeting contribution that was attributed to an actor was coded to reflect the actor’s affiliation with a group or organization. These codes were created deductively from the meeting minute participant lists. Then, the deductive codes were cross coded to understand the “type” of contribution that was being made. These codes were developed inductively to cover the types of participation that arose in the meetings. Finally, a query was run through the NVivo software to show how the various actors contributed to the meetings.


During the board meetings, board members establish official recommendations to governments, approve and amend work plans for the year, and create research agendas. It was therefore determined that the record of these meetings would provide an accurate picture of the depth and breadth of the TJFB’s role in fisheries governance in the region. Through analyzing each of these activities, a richer understanding of the TJFB’s role in governance emerged. Since the TJFB’s inception in 2005, it has been meeting 3 times per year. Board meetings typically last for 2 days. For this research, the TJFB made the board meeting minutes available from March 2010–February 2021, a total of 45 meetings. Generally, meeting minutes follow the same format over the 12-year period and are recorded by the same individual, resulting in a high degree of consistency in the content from year to year.

The Annual Fisheries Workshop meeting minutes were analyzed to understand how stakeholders contributed to the TJFB’s decisions. These results are then described to elucidate how fishers and other stakeholders in the region contribute to fisheries co-management. For this research, the TJFB made the workshop meeting minutes available for Workshops from 2011 to 2019, a total of 17 meetings, 139 pages of meeting minutes. The format of these meetings has changed slightly over the years. In early years, meetings were held for each commercial species individually, while in later years a single, 2-day meeting was held to discuss all species. This accounts for the discrepancy in the number of meetings over a 9-year period.

Gathering information

One of the most prominent activities undertaken by the TJFB is gathering and analyzing information. The TJFB spends a significant amount of time in their meetings discussing information gathering. Of all the activities recorded, “gathering information” was coded a total of 255 times, 42% of all activities coded in the minutes. Figure 2 shows how the TJFB first identifies the relevant context for decision-making and then approaches collecting information and prioritizing information of relevance to Nunatsiavut towards the creation of recommendations.

Fig. 2
figure 2

The Torngat Joint Fisheries Board process for creating recommendations for DFO fisheries policy

The TJFB collects a tremendous amount of information when considering their recommendations. This information concerns the existing commercial fisheries, potential exploratory fisheries, traditional fisheries, ecosystem health, public policies, the legal mandate of the TJFB, and more. Most of the information required to make decisions cannot be collected by the TJFB themselves — such as stock assessments, seabed mapping, or studies into the effects of seismic testing. The TJFB therefore relies on other organizations, particularly on research undertaken by the DFO Science Division. Gathering information was further subdivided into 5 categories that reflect the strategies the TJFB used to collect information: Natural and social science research, consultation with fisheries stakeholders and with communities, consultation from external experts, and attendance at national and international meetings. These elements of gathering information are reflected in Fig. 2. The supplementary material provides a more detailed look at each of these elements.

The TJFB has considerable leeway to influence research for fisheries governance in Nunatsiavut. Their emphasis on collaboration, particularly in recent years, has allowed the TJFB to steer research undertaken by the federal and Nunatsiavut governments. For example, beginning in 2013, the TJFB began collaborating with DFO to undertake a post-season trap survey for Snow crab in their adjacent waters. The survey is first noted in the board meeting minutes #30 for March 2013 as the “TJFB Snow crab research program.” During the meeting, board members agree that the survey should be post-season. The survey is funded under the TJFB’s research program, and it provides important additional data that is added into the stock assessment and informs the TJFB’s decisions (e.g., TJFB 2016).

Meeting and workshops minutes illustrate that the TJFB prioritizes research that supports community and fisher objectives. For example, the TJFB has run several surveys looking at the health and abundance of domestic fisheries, including Arctic char and Atlantic salmon. The TJFB emphasizes the social and cultural importance of these fisheries, and funds programs that support evidence-based decision-making concerning the commercial and domestic harvest. For example, in a 2011 workshop meeting on Arctic char, attendees are recorded as discussing “the need for more baseline data of the arctic char stocks. There is uncertainty with the stock status and more baseline data, including local traditional knowledge, will have to be collected if there is to be a commercial fishery.” (2011 Arctic char workshop). Despite the cultural importance of char, and the fact that DFO holds responsibility for this research, DFO stopped assessing this species in the 1990s after the commercial industry ended and has not renewed its efforts, as noted by a DFO employee in a 2010 board meeting, who is recorded as presenting that “there hasn’t been a management plan for charr in about 5 years; more likely because of lack of data and the perception that there’s little pressure” (#20, Nov 2010).

Lastly, the TJFB gathers information by consulting with expertise external to the region. Consultants and other experts provide advice in a number of subjects, including legal and scientific information. For example, a scientist from the Fisheries and Marine Institute at Memorial University joined meeting #43 in 2016 to provide information on the Atlantic cod recovery with a presentation titled “CFER Research on Northern Cod: Understanding and Predicting Recovery in a Dynamic Ecosystem.” Board members also frequently send members of the Torngat Secretariat to act as board representatives at national and international meetings, such as when the TJFB begins sending a representative to the Northwestern Atlantic Fisheries Organization meetings in 2012. In the meeting minutes, those who attend the national and international meetings are present on the content of those meetings to support informed decision-making by the TJFB.

Consultation and participation at fisheries workshops

The Annual Fisheries Workshop meeting minutes were analyzed to understand how regional stakeholders contribute to the TJFB’s activities. The Annual Fisheries Workshop is the only time when all stakeholders gather in a formal setting to discuss the fisheries, thus providing an important occasion for the TJFB to hear from stakeholders, and especially fishers. This is the only “official” space where they contribute to decisions made by the TJFB. As Table 1 demonstrates, fishers participate actively in these meetings and are recorded as speaking more frequently than any other group, participating a total of 126 times throughout the 10 years of workshop meeting minutes.

Table 1 Frequency of participation in Annual Fisheries Workshops meeting minutes, 2010-2019

Fishers participate in less formal ways, by asking questions, identifying problems, and brainstorming ideas. The questions are generally practical, such as how profits from the offshore shrimp licenses will be used, or whether a fisher can get support to purchase a vessel. Participants also raise issues that they observe out on the water, such as landing more soft-shell crab, or concerns about seismic testing.

Almost all presentations were made by DFO, the Nunatsiavut Government, the Torngat Fish Producers Cooperative, or the Torngat Secretariat. In general, presentations are about scientific data, catch rates, and financial information from the past year in the fishery. The minutes record presentation titles, such as “Snow Crab Scientific Research Torngat Joint Fisheries Board Fisheries Research Program Manager Snow Crab Workshop November 15, 2011,” from the Torngat Secretariat, or “North Labrador Arctic charr program – Nain” from DFO in 2015.

The Nunatsiavut Government, DFO, the Torngat Fish Producers Cooperative, and the Torngat Secretariat are the other groups who participate the most frequently in the meetings. These organizations are by and large represented by the same people for the 9 years of annual workshop meetings. This indicates a high level of buy-in to the meetings from a core group of regional stakeholders. The province of Newfoundland and Labrador, by contrast, is only recorded as speaking 4 times, in 2017 and 2019.

Policy recommendations

It is in the Board’s mandate to submit recommendations to the Minister of DFO concerning the “conservation of species or stocks of Fish…and the management of fisheries in the Labrador Inuit Settlement Area” (LILCA 2006), so it is unsurprising that the creation of recommendations is a central aspect of many Board discussions. Recommendations recorded in the meeting minutes touch on several topics, from quota and allocation advice to suggestions for research projects, boundary lines, ongoing data collection, observer coverage, and the decision-making process. Recommendations are drafted by the Secretariat, then reviewed and approved by the Board. Recommendations are provided by the Torngat Secretariat using briefing notes, then Board members reach a consensus on a final recommendation. At this stage the Torngat Secretariat is directed to implement the board’s wishes. The discussion of the recommendations are highly detailed, as with this request for action:

Request for Action (RFA 50-02) It was requested that [redacted] Policy Analyst, prepare formal correspondence for the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, recommending that a TAC of 22,000 MT be maintained for SFA 5 and reiterating that 11% of increases, if any, be allocated to the Nunatsiavut Government.

Only on one occasion (Jan 2012) do the meeting minutes record a time when consensus was not achieved on a recommendation. In this instance, the TJFB members voted and remained divided, so it was concluded that they should maintain consistency with the recommendation from previous years, noting “the Board rationalizes the decision based on wanting to be consistent with its recommendations. Previous recommendations were made based on consensus; this year consensus was not reached.”

Board recommendations are not limited to licencing and quota issues concerning the five commercial species fished in Nunatsiavut. The Board also looks more broadly at fisheries management and conservation in the region, like listings by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada and the Precautionary Approach, Marine Stewardship Council certification, and the creation of a new Fisheries Act. Recommendations were regularly submitted to emphasize the importance of continuing char and salmon research based on the fishes’ cultural significance, such as this action taken in 2018:

The Board would like to recommend to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, that DFO prioritize Char research in northern Labrador, prioritizing abundance

The Board also used recommendations to raise concerns heard in the communities, such as seismic testing and the circulation of methyl mercury. For example, in meeting #19 in 2010, the meeting minutes include the following request for action:

Request for Action [redacted], Executive Director, was requested to draft a recommendation for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to include seismic effects of snow crab research in their own research program.

The interpretation of the TJFB mandate is an issue captured in the data. A good deal of the TJFB time is spent discussing the definition of the mandate through the Land Claim Agreement. In early meetings there is discussion how or whether to legally challenge the Crown’s interpretation of the Agreement. Discussion on this subject takes up a lot of time, and DFO’s interpretation of the land claim has clashed with what the TJFB consider to be their remit. These disagreements have restricted the TJFB’s ability to make meaningful change for the region. For example, even though the TJFB has advocated for years that shrimp allocations to Nunatsiavut should be increased in line with the LILCA guidelines, DFO has chosen not to honour that recommendation. Recommendations may also be used to remind DFO of the TJFB’s mandate, and of the language in the LILCA: “The Board would like to… reiterate its disagreement with the National Policy for Allocating Fish for Financing Purposes and highlight the Nunatsiavut Government’s missed opportunity for increased allocations with respect to 13.12.7 of the Labrador Inuit Land Claims Agreement (LILCA).” In 2017, the TJFB meet with a DFO representative, and the following point is noted in the minutes: “The Board would like to see a resolution with the issue relating to interpretation of the Labrador Inuit Land Claims Agreement,” suggesting that the interpretation of the board’s mandate continues to cause issues.

It is clear from the board meeting minutes that there is some disagreement between the TJFB and the DFO Minister(s) as to the TJFB’s mandate. In the early meetings, the TJFB engages legal counsel for advice on the exact nature of their role, suggesting that they are still exploring the extent of their powers. The meeting minutes frequently state that the TJFB does not receive timely responses from the Minister’s office — at one meeting in 2011, it is noted that responses are received 75, 76, and 91 days after the recommendations have been submitted. The Minister is required to provide reasons for not accepting the recommendations, so the Torngat Secretariat is sometimes engaged to submit a second letter requesting that a response be given after 90 days. As the TJFB matures, minutes illustrate that members learn more about how to be strategic with their advice. They discuss the importance of the timeliness of their submissions, as well as how to reach out personally to individuals within DFO to create relationships.


In this section, we share reflections on and interpretations of some of the most significant findings from the analysis. During these meetings, board members establish official recommendations to governments, approve, and amend work plans for the year and create research agendas. The minutes record agenda items, salient discussion points, requests for action, and decisions. Through analyzing each of these activities, a richer understanding of the TJFB’s role in governance emerged. Additionally, the Annual Fisheries workshop meeting minutes provide insight into how stakeholders contribute to the TJFB’s decisions and to fisheries co-management.

Leading research

It can be argued that fishery decision-making in the waters adjacent to Nunatsiavut is data poor from a science perspective, and this gives the Minister of DFO ample discretion over decisions that affect the use of multiple forms of knowledge and the advancement of Inuit reconciliation through the satisfactory implementation of comprehensive land claim agreements. This is particularly true for inshore fisheries, which is where most of the Nunatsiavut beneficiaries who participate in the industry are employed, either on boats or in the processing plants (Kourantidou et al. 2020). In our findings, the TJFB has implemented several research programs intended to fill gaps in the science and have actively engaged with commercial fisheries stakeholders to operationalize co-management in the region and to provide process that honours the spirit and intent of the Labrador Inuit Land Claim Agreement.

During the fisheries workshops, the TJFB regularly makes a note of fishers’ questions and concerns and prioritizes gathering information to answer their questions. When concerns about seismic testing are raised, for example, the TJFB brought in an expert from DFO and a consulting company to share what they know. The TJFB subsequently created info sheets that can were distributed to fishers and community members. This responsiveness to Inuit fishers in Nunatsiavut was one of the key findings that illustrates how co-management can support community.

The TJFB has put significant resources into research programs over the past 12 years. Because they are working in a data poor area, the information they collect both alone and through collaborations with the Nunatsiavut Government and DFO has an impact on fisheries governance. This is significant because it marks a shift towards Labrador Inuit having more control over the research agenda for fisheries governance.

Indigenous control over the research agenda has long been considered essential for advancing Indigenous self-determination (McGregor 2004). The National Inuit Strategy on Research is unequivocal in stating that control over research has direct consequences on social and economic equity for Inuit communities (Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami 2018). Research conducted by and for Indigenous Peoples helps to increase local capacity (Carter et al. 2019), allows for the inclusion of Indigenous worldviews in decision-making (Pedersen et al. 2020), and creates opportunities for direct political action (Tester and Irniq 2008). The work the TJFB is doing advances these goals, contributing not only to evidence-based decision-making, but also to broader social and economic goals for the land claim area. The TJFB has prioritized data collection specific to Nunatsiavut, that fills in gaps in DFO’s research agenda, and is driven by Labrador Inuit concerns.

In spite of the fisheries workshops and their social science component, the TJFB does appear to work with less social science data when compared to the amount of natural science studies and reports that appear in the meeting minutes. Very few studies are reported that examine important issues like fisher perspectives, community priorities, observations on the water, or economic concerns. Without a fisher association or regular contact between the TJFB and the communities, access to the TJFB and other decision makers in Nunatsiavut is restricted. This might lead the TJFB to rely too heavily on individual community members who feel comfortable addressing board members directly. Additionally, most fishers and managers in Nunatsiavut fisheries are men over the age of 40, which means that those contributing to the direction of the fishery has even fewer opportunities to hear from women, youths, and elders in the communities. The incorporation of fisher observations and Inuit Knowledge for decision-making is important because it can contribute important information from generations of observations and learning on the land and water (Pedersen et al. 2020), and it can lead to the identification of new questions, priorities, and values that guide research (McGregor et al. 2010). To properly engage communities, culturally-relevant approaches should be taken, opening the door to more collaboration between the TJFB and communities (Latulippe and Klenk 2020). The evaluative capacity of the TJFB would be greatly improved with the systematic collection and presentation of social science data to drive fisheries management.

Participation and co-management maturity

The data in our study highlighted that prepared presentations become a more prevalent part of the fisheries workshop meetings over time. During the early meetings, a lot of time is given for open discussion, brainstorming, and facilitated breakout sessions. As the meetings progress, less space is dedicated to these more informal methods of participation, and there is more focus on prepared remarks. Other informal activities in the workshops are still prevalent throughout the decade, such as asking a question and expressing an opinion, but these are limited to short interventions, rather than opportunities for discussion or collaboration.

Berkes (2010) outlined the 3 stages of maturity for an adaptive co-management arrangement: early, middle, and mature. They describe the evolution of a co-management board as moving from a more top-down, reactionary, and fractured arrangement to one with vertical and horizontal links between partners, equality among decision-makers, and the ability to shape and plan the future. In Snook’s assessment of Nunatsiavut co-management in 2010, he reported changes that suggested the organization had matured over their first 5 years in operation. One participant noted “After 2 years of stumbling along, we are starting to get on with our research projects, and we are starting to collaborate with many other agencies… and the information gathered is coming back to us and helping us make key decisions in terms of our recommendations.” (Snook 2010). This research supports the notion that the co-management organization is indeed continuing to evolve over time.

There is a marked difference between the way the TJFB functions in the board meeting minutes of 2010 and the meeting minutes in 2020. The board meetings start out with more focus on the administrative side of the work, including a long investigation into the TJFB’s mandate under the land claim. In the beginning, there are also multiple workshops per year, each with time devoted to open brainstorming and discussions. As the system matures, the meetings become more formalized, and indeed more efficient, devoting more time to prepared presentations and remarks, which has allowed the TJFB to minimize time and resources needed for the workshops to progress, so the meetings are cut down to a 2-day meeting that covers all fish species.

A common critique of co-management is that the system can be bogged down by additional levels of bureaucracy and administration, and that it is a process of institution building that requires a considerable amount of time and resources (Plummer and Armitage 2007; Zurba et al. 2012). This research demonstrates that this barrier can be overcome as the co-management arrangement matures. In this case, while the early years of the TJFB were marked by administrative work, the TJFB learns over time and focuses on more management and research. These findings reflect what is seen elsewhere in the literature, that co-management requires decades of time and collaboration to become a mature and self-organizing system of governance (Armitage et al. 2009; Henri et al. 2020; Roa-Ureta et al. 2020).

This move towards efficiency, however, requires a trade-off. The move towards a formalized setting in the workshops suggests that the goal of the meetings has changed from a focus on solving problems to a focus on sharing information. The workshops provide an opportunity to hear about and discuss the latest fishing season but do not address issues or ideas in depth. If the TJFB loses its mechanisms for meaningful participation, some of the important aspects of their work may suffer. Without carving out space for future planning and strategizing, the fisheries are likely to remain stuck to the priorities set by the federal government, rather than the best interests of Labrador Inuit.

As the TJFB has become more efficient, there is less time dedicated to organic discussions, and more to “prepared presentations” in more recent years. Only on one occasion does a fisher present in this fashion, using a PowerPoint presentation to speak about their experiences in the fishery. Where a slide show presentation may take 10 min to half an hour, the questions and comments contributed by fishers only last a few minutes, leaving less time for their contributions to influence discussion.

Fishers may feel less comfortable participating in this more formal setting. The fishers do not have their own representation in this system. The TJFB relies on them to speak individually, on their own behalf. While the workshop meeting minutes mention a few occasions where the fishers are given space to discuss the creation of a fishers’ association, these conversations do not result in an established organization at the time of publication. This means that a few fishers, particularly those who are more comfortable in formal boardroom settings, may have more influence over the system than others. Other than the Fisheries Workshops, fishers have no other direct avenue to have their voices heard by the TJFB. This may erode trust over time if the fishers feel their needs are not being heard.

Addressing this issue of meaningful participation requires solutions that are appropriate for the context and are culturally relevant for Labrador Inuit. Inuit and Northern Indigenous cultures have traditionally used collaborative and dialogic governance strategies, where open discussion is essential (Brice Bennet and LIA 1976; McGregor 2009; Snook et al. 2020; Tagalik 2015). A more formal, presentation-based setting may feel uncomfortable to some Labrador Inuit fishers. Indeed, researchers suggest that moving to a consensus-based approach can lead to more personal engagement and solution-oriented governance than other methods (Ferrazzi et al. 2019; McGrath 2018). Others point out the importance of social and informal consultation in governance, which can lead to more reciprocal learning for all parties (Zurba et al. 2021). Insofar as fisher consultation is an important aspect of the TJFB’s decision-making process, this indicates it would be worthwhile to create opportunities for open dialogue between fishers and managers.

The goal of the Annual Fisheries Workshop appears to have shifted over the last decade, with more emphasis on informing stakeholders, rather than discussion and brainstorming practices. It may be the case that this is no longer an appropriate venue for this type of discussion, but that does not mean that such a forum should not exist. Inuit communities have found success undertaking planning initiatives that focus on co-learning, mutual support, and sharing (Patrick et al. 2019; Riedlsperger et al. 2017). Creating a space that encourages equitable sharing and discussion can create solidarity among actors and removes some of the competition from relationships (Hudson and Vodden 2020). Actively encouraging fishers to communicate about their needs and priorities should be done in ways that are culturally relevant and place-based, and so, rather than sacrificing the efficiency of the Annual Fisheries Workshop, new initiatives should be set up to facilitate co-learning and active feedback.

Resilience and capacity building

This research shows an example of a land claim–based co-management board supporting self-determination by adding resilience and capacity to a complex governance system. The accumulation of gatherings documented from this research provides evidence of a sudden increase in fisher dialogue after the land claim agreement was implemented through the TJFB. This counters long held narratives about the need for increased capacity in the north to achieve research goals and improve self-determination, which often frames visiting researchers or NGOs as the drivers of change. In this “deficit model,” Inuit communities are running a capacity deficit, and southern researchers are needed to counter it. Pfeifer (2018) writes on this pervasive framing as an issue of a “credibility gap.” Pfeifer argues that because researchers, funders, and policymakers do not see Inuit Knowledge as valid scientific knowledge, they see a need for southern researchers to fill in the holes in Inuit governance systems.

Through the Torngat Secretariat, the TJFB has managed to increase research capacity for fisheries management in the region. This is important for filling gaps in available knowledge about the region, as well as for identifying priorities of local communities and fishers. The post-season crab survey that TJFB created in 2013, for example, has added a large area of coverage for DFO’s crab surveys, providing consistent data for 10 years about an area further north than DFO has been prepared to survey in the past. This is particularly significant during a time when DFO is struggling to produce its own scientific advice in a timely manner (Archibald et al. 2021). Regionally specific research has been shown to improve research effectiveness and contribute to the well-being of communities (Hiruy and Eversole 2020).

Despite the increase in dialogue and fisheries science in the region, there is a risk that Nunatsiavut Inuit are not feeling heard because of the federal government’s restrictive interpretations of the agreement. Many Labrador Inuit have noted both through research and through the media that they believe the government is failing to honour the “spirit” of the agreement (e.g., Foley et al. 2017). Andrea Procter has argued that Labrador Inuit have been unable to fully benefit from their adjacent resources through the land claim because of neoliberal understandings of indigeneity, in other words, that Indigenous peoples have less claim to “non-traditional” resources like commercial fisheries and mining (Procter 2016). The meeting minutes indicate that this continues to be a barrier to the TJFB’s work.

Insofar as scholars have framed co-management as a problem-solving process that is characterized by soft power and social learning, they have shown that the signing of a land claim agreement is not the final word on power (Armitage et al. 2011; White 2020). Co-management arrangements that engage in social learning and iterative problem solving will continuously grow and evolve over time. But this requires trust, reciprocity, and sufficient space for creativity to thrive (Davidson-Hunt and O’Flaherty 2007). While the minutes present us with several examples of the TJFB learning and adjusting their behavior and communications, no examples are recorded of the executive level of the Canadian federal government making the same attempts to collaborate or to compromise. Problem-solving and creative co-learning can only take the TJFB so far towards creating meaningful change in the region if their counterpart in the land claim agreement is not interested in reciprocating.


This study has demonstrated that the TJFB displays a lot of soft power and influence (Quimby and Levine 2018), despite some of the barriers they face, such as Land Claim Agreement interpretation, lack of investment in Northern fisheries science by the federal government, and Ministerial discretion with regard to recommendations. Graham White describes the power of co-management boards as the “intercultural transaction between Indigenous peoples and the state as well as integration of Indigenous peoples into the state system as they exert influence through that system” (White 2020, p.322). In other words, although the current governance system forces Indigenous leaders to participate in the Canadian state system, Indigenous leaders have found significant ways of influencing the context in which decisions are made. Taken together, these findings suggest that the TJFB has been an effective way of improving Labrador Inuit participation in fisheries governance in the region.

To continue to strengthen the representation of Labrador Inuit in fisheries management, we suggest that the TJFB create new, culturally appropriate spaces to hear from fishers and community members on the values and priorities they have for the commercial fishing industry. The literature has shown that input from Indigenous women continues to be a weakness for co-management boards, as well as the authentic incorporation of Indigenous Knowledge (White 2020). Our research shows that the TJFB is well-placed to increase the resilience and capacity of the region, to bolster equitable participation from resource users, and to pull culturally relevant information for decision-making. The intentional collection of data and the creation of spaces for Labrador Inuit to have open discussions on the fisheries may be an opportunity for the TJFB to advance self-determination for Nunatsiavut.

Modern colonialism continues to be an issue that prevents co-management from functioning as it was intended (Daigle 2016). Still, the TJFB has managed to greatly increase research capacity in the region, push focus towards the socio-cultural dimensions of fisheries management, and strengthen the political voice of the region by improving communication among actors. Much of this success is down to the fact that the TJFB has relied on regionally focused and Inuit-led research and discussion. To continue with this success, it is important that the TJFB keep spaces open to allow greater participation and representation from Nunatsiavut beneficiaries. The TJFB may also benefit from also looking for more opportunities to consider the long-term trajectory of the fisheries and ensure that their objectives are driven by Inuit values, priorities, and visions.