West Greenland's Cod-to-Shrimp Transition : Local Dimensions of Climatic Change


  • Lawrence C. Hamilton
  • Benjamin C. Brown
  • Rasmus Ole Rasmussen




Greenland, fisheries, climatic change, human dimensions, Sisimiut, Paamiut, Elias Kleist, North Atlantic Oscillation, Great Salinity Anomaly, Unaami


West Greenland's transition from a cod-fishing to a shrimp-fishing economy, ca. 1960-90, provides a case study in the human dimensions of climatic change. Physical, biological, and social systems interacted in complex ways to affect coastal communities. For this integrated case study, we examine linkages between atmospheric conditions (including the North Atlantic Oscillation), ocean circulation, ecosystem conditions, fishery activities, and the livelihoods and population changes of two West Greenland towns: Sisimiut, south of Disko Bay, and Paamiut, on the southwest coast. Sisimiut prospered as a fishing center through the cod-to-shrimp transition. Paamiut, more specialized in cod fishing, declined. Their stories suggest two general propositions about the human dimensions of climatic change. First, socially important environmental changes result not simply from climatic change, but from interactions between climate, ecosystem, and resource usage. Second, environmental changes affect people differentially and through interactions with social factors. Social networks and cohesion (social capital) are important, in addition to skills (human capital), investments (physical capital), and alternative resources (natural capital): all shape how the benefits and costs are distributed.