Voyagers And Greenlandic Fishermen—What We Have In Common

JHH5II-12132 As a visiting cruiser there are two ways to approach a different culture, like that of Greenland: Continually complain about the inconveniences and criticize the differences from the way of life back home, or embrace the differences and try and learn from them.

Phyllis and I always try to do the latter, although I’m sure we have been guilty of the former, particularly when trying to get a long list of boat and shopping chores ticked off in a strange land—don’t get me started on food stores in the Canary Islands!

But I digress. The other night we were chatting with Grete, our visiting scientist, about her day’s interviews and she mentioned in passing that she had been talking to the Danish manager of a fish plant who was absolutely frustrated by the local fishermen’s total lack of interest in increasing their catch by working longer hours and/or buying bigger boats.

And what totally blew the manager away was that recently, when the price of fish jumped dramatically, the landings at his plant went down. Why? Simply because the Greenlandic fishermen realized that they could make the same amount of money as before the increase by working less hours.

I thought about it for a moment and then it hit me between the eyes. What are these fishermen practicing? Sustainability, that’s what. They already had all the money that they really needed at the old price, so why not work less and enjoy life more at the new? And at the same time leave more fish in the sea for another day.

Contrast that with the developed world where when there is a big price jump in any commodity—does not have to be fish, could be timber, metals, oil, whatever—the gold rush is on: More harvesters, more hours worked, bigger more efficient equipment…until we decimate yet another resource.

It does not even have to involve a resource for the developed world’s greed to screw things up. Once we just had mortgages, but the finance industry could not make more money every year out of that, so then they invented collateralized debt obligations and just about bankrupted us all with them.

Yes, the developed world could learn a lot from Northwest Greenlandics. Pity it won’t.

But here is a nice thought. Maybe we voyagers who work just long enough and hard enough to buy a boat and amass the necessary savings and then turn our backs on our jobs, fancy cars and big expensive houses and go cruising, are, at least in a small way, practicing some of the same restraint as Northwest Greenlandic fishermen.

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John was born and brought up in Bermuda and started sailing as a child, racing locally and offshore before turning to cruising. He has sailed over 100,000 miles, most of it on his McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, including eight ocean races to Bermuda, culminating in winning his class twice in the Newport Bermuda Race. He has skippered a series of voyages in the North Atlantic, the majority of which have been to the high latitudes. John has been helping others go voyaging by sharing his experience for twenty years, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 18 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

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