Sean’s Greenland diary – salmon sampling

Sean Dugan is based at the Marine Scotland Freshwater Fisheries Laboratory near Pitlochry. Sean is employed by Fisheries Management Scotland with joint funding from Marine Scotland and through the Scottish Fisheries Co-ordination Centre, provides support to the member Fisheries Trusts and DSFBs in terms of data collection, data storage, training and mapping services. Sean facilitates the sharing of data between Fisheries Trusts/DSFBs, Marine Scotland and SEPA. His role also involves working directly for Marine Scotland on Fisheries Management Planning and Salmon Conservation Regulations.

Sean is currently taking some time out to assist with the NASCO salmon sampling programme in Greenland, and has kindly agreed to share his experiences via his Greenland diary and photo blog on flickr. Follow the diary below and check out Sean’s fantastic images on his ongoing photo blog.

I have been on the waiting list for this trip for 4 years and have finally arrived in Maniitsoq, West Greenland. I will keep you updated with photos and insights during my trip.

 

 

 

17th September – Goodbye Greenland

Up at half 6 to an intense sunrise so I set up the timelaspe one last time and grabbed some breakfast before saying thank you and goodbye to the hotel staff. There is no security at Maniitsoq airport, not even an ID check before getting on the plane. I boarded first to ensure a window seat but as I had chosen the emergency exit I was not allowed to have my camera in my hand during take-off or landing. The views upon taking off were incredible and we banked right over the route I had walked 2 weeks before which looked far more easily navigable from the air.

At Kangerluassaq airport I got a nice big wildlife photography book about Greenland for mum and dad and met a couple of English guys who had just spent 28 days skiing across Greenland, 2 of only 12 people who had crossed Greenland this year (500 climbed Everest this summer). Their expedition is called Expedition 5 which involves crossing the worlds 5 largest islands unsupported.

Upon doing a final check with airport security staff that my muskox skin was all clear to export I met an English lady from Spean Bridge coming off 4 months sea kayak guiding in Ilulissat further north. Her pictures of whales and paddling through icebergs were amazing.

I had 2 hours to change over in Copenhagen and with the baggage taking half an hour to arrive by the time I had changed terminals, re-checked in the baggage, gone through security and arrived at the gate I was very close to the flight departure time. However, the flight was delayed an hour and I eventually arrived in Edinburgh at midnight. Jenny picked me up and had me home by half 2. It was a special occasion for us as I gave Jenny our engagement ring which had been delivered from a friend in Canada the day I left for Greenland, so Jenny had to endure the torture of waiting.

16th September – Farewell Maniitsoq Market

Not every resident in Maniitsoq goes to church on Sunday and many came down to pick their own cut of the 5 reindeer (tuttu) that arrived and were being butchered into family dinner sized portions. The haunches went first then various filets. A catfish around 15lbs was also landed. Jens, my old friend from the market sat down with me over coffee and pointed to a bag in the corner and said kapisillit. I looked in the bag to see that the adipose fins had not been cut meaning Jens had purchased them yesterday somehow without me seeing. I asked if I could sample them and he replied in perfect English “maybe tomorrow” with a serious face. I said I was going on the aeroplane home tomorrow and he went silent for several minutes before smiling and pointing to the salmon and my sampling kit. I took the fish out to see that the scales had been pressure-washed away leaving only the lateral line scales which are not good for scale reading. I took the fin clips and other samples anyway. At closing time I said farewell to the market staff and let them know that Tea from CEFAS would be coming to sample next Friday for 2 weeks.

Weather was classic Maniitsoq -misty with sleet a few miles inland and bluebird at sea- so I headed out for a walk with the camera. I met a local family picking berries and saw a peregrine. Before dinner I organised the samples, wrote up the recording sheets and packed bags for leaving. My friend Nicholas joined me during dinner to exchange contact details and talk about how to bring more tourists to Maniitsoq. I offered him the use of all my photos in return for the boat trip. Although foreign visitors come occasionally for charr fishing, hunting and heli skiing there is massive potential for nature and adventure tourism. Whale watching, wildlife photography, sea kayaking, hiking, fishing, culture and aurora chasing can all be done from the town but there is currently no marketing. Carl Davidsen (who picked me up on day 1) runs a boat trip service, the only leaflet I found in 17 days. Nicholas asked if I would visit Greenland next summer and I said my parents are planning to but I am getting married so will need to work on the Greenland honeymoon plan.

Around 10 years ago after the closure of the major fish processing factory Maniitsoq went through a period of decline and population emigration. It is now coming back and should soon compete with Ilullisat, a town to the North which has tapped in to the nature tourism potential.

Nicholas and I looked through thousands of pics from my trip over a Greenland coffee and he shared hunting pics from recent trips. We talked about muskox and I mentioned that I almost purchased a skin this morning. At that he said:

‘OK we drink a beer then we go to my father’s house and I get you a muskukse’

Aware of the price of a skin I immediately handed over cash to pay for 2 Greenland coffees and 2 beers each, £52. While I looked through his father’s beautiful Greenlandic arts and crafts collection he told me about his Greenlandic mother living in Denmark and his Danish father living down the street in Maniitsoq. He talked about healthcare here and how there have been family tragedies at least in part because of a lack of quality care.

15th September – Sperm Whale (Kigutilissuaq)

As soon as the market opened 20 salmon were landed by the same fisherman who landed 30 or so yesterday. 2 were purchased with just an adipose clip search and 18 fully sampled. Most were in good condition, 0.2 lice/fish with 1 having a light predator wound and 1 with what I thought could be a lamprey scar.

The market closed at lunchtime and I caught up with a local man I met while he waited for me to sample a fish he had purchased. The original plan was to take the boat down the fjord with his in-laws who were visiting from the capital (Nuuk) and go for a “Greenlandic picnic” so I grabbed some nice presents from the local shops for the family. In the end the family had other plans so we saddled up the fishing gear and headed out in a 20ft boat with a 250hp Suzuki outboard. We talked about the whales and when one breached he motored for it. I said I have been watching these whales for a while and if you aim straight at them they will dive. The whale soon resurfaced, and we drifted in to about 150m before it did a near-vertical dive. I took several hundred photos in a burst and captured a hint of a rainbow in the spout before it dived. The animal was enormous and moved slowly on the surface and very quickly underwater (up to 25mph apparently).

Upon cruising past the south end of town we noticed 3 sea kayakers leaving the bay and a crowd gathering on the rocks. 2 were in traditional Inuit kayaks to put on a show to the 60 or so onlookers. One was a professional and one being coached in many different forms of eskimo roll. They were using traditional driftwood Inuit paddles giving little leverage to roll so their hips had to do all the work with the head leaving the water last. We watched 6 or 7 different types of roll and talked about how sea kayaking tourism could be explored further in Greenland. My friend noticed a young boy he knew on the rocks and called him along to a safe point to board.

We now headed off for some cod fishing – Scotland with rod, reel and a 42g lure V Greenland with handline and 4 50+g lures. Greenland took a 2-0 lead before I had tackled up but I soon hooked a very strong cod which was landed after a strong fight, 10lbs. A local fisherman was winching up cod beside us in what was a popular drift for cod. I hooked a polar cod or fjord torsk in Danish and let the young lad haul it in. In half an hour we finished up with Scotland 4-8 Greenland and headed in towards the inlet I had walked around 2 weeks previously to look for sea eagles and gut the fish. The boat had rapid acceleration and could do 50mph. In the bay we had tea and some local Greenlandic food and talked about how Maniitsoq could be a tourist destination for wildlife watching, hunting, sea kayaking.

On heading back to port we wanted to show the boy the whale and it finally breached very far out to sea so we headed out into the swell among the fulmars. We went up-swell and into the sun to allow viewing and photography towards the animal. The whale’s path and our drift aligned and we were treated to an animal the size of a bus about 30m away. Even although it was downwind it had a strong smell of fish and the ocean and the sound of the spout was incredible. After a minute it accelerated and did the classic rise, under, big rise, under, vertical dive. My lens was out to 100mm and only a third of the animal could fit in. Although black in silhouette the whale is actually dark brown and we could see every scar along its tail. I took almost 2000 pictures today – a day to remember.

 14th September- Winter is coming – stock up the freezers

First thing this morning 2 fisherman docked and brought in a haul of at least 68 salmon between them. There was a noticeable difference in average size between the catches and I managed to get a total of 54 full samples by 1pm. By the end of the day all of the salmon had been sold.

4 fish from the first catch were taken by the fisherman and did not enter the market. This was the first big haul of the season so word spread fast. Despite my best efforts 10 from the second catch were sold before I could do any more than check for adipose fin clips, potentially indicating the presence of a tag. Once I had sampled one box full I placed that at the front of the counter in an attempt to encourage customers to purchase sampled fish but some went for the big unsampled ones at the back! There were also about 15 seals, porpoises and dolphins for sale so the market was heaving until lunchtime.

Many customers spoke to me and asked what I was doing so the NASCO Greenlandic leaflet was well received. A Danish lady asked many questions about where the salmon come from – consistently around 80% from North America and 20% European for the West Greenland fishery as a whole, although Maniitsoq usually has more North American fish. Of the North American fish most are from Gulf of St Lawrence (28%), Gaspe Peninsula (23%) and coastal Labrador (21%). 92% of the European fish are from the UK.

A young boy took particular interest so I gave him the magnifying glass and told him to spot the sea lice for me.

I found what I thought was an adipose clipped fish and upon turning on the coded wire tag wand (metal detector) the device beeped resulting in all of the hunters from the larder dropping knives and sealskins to gather round. They knew exactly what was going on and the prospect of a 15,000 DKK reward for a tag recovery. Unfortunately we could not find any tags on the 2 adipose clipped fish. Interestingly since the NASCO tag recovery scheme was introduced in 1989 there has been no significant increase in tag recoveries.

0.5 lice per fish today and the biggest were around 12lbs.

 13th September- Licensed hunters

At the market this morning we discussed and compared the fishing and hunting scene in Scotland with Greenland where all hunters purchase a license annually for 250DKK. This allows hunting of everything from whale to muskox to salmon and permits the hunter to sell his quarry. Unlike Scotland which has one of the most complex patchworks of landownership, Greenland is simple and hunting access is straightforward. In Maniitsoq there are 100 licensed hunters and when they bring items to market a magnetic tag with their unique number is placed beside their produce.

A 3ft long halibut was landed and the market had a steady flow of custom. After lunch I wanted to make myself useful for once so collected a dustbin full of plastic from the shore beside the hunter’s dock. No more kapisillit today but many boats out fishing. After dinner caught up on work emails and renamed the salmon photographs from yesterday to match their sample numbers. Tea from CEFAS is coming out to take over sampling here next Thursday so I have been sharing lots of tips by email before she leaves.

12th September – Kapisillit, laks, salmo salar

Up at half 6 to welcome the first clear sky sunrise after several days of drizzle. Spirits were high at the market with seal, dolphin, minke whale, reindeer, catfish, redfish, halibut and cod for sale. I ventured out on to the hunter’s boat dock in search of kapisillit to find more seals and cod. At high tide the submerged outflow pipe from the market larder carries chunks of meat and fat to be gobbled up by many cod and rock fish waiting just under the surface. Up to spy hill before lunch and pleased to see one sperm whale (the smaller of the two) still around and feeding. Visibility was superb this morning with views inland to the snow-capped peaks and out to the horizon revealing the curve of the Earth. The gyr falcon appeared again silhouetted against the sun in the worst possible place for a photograph so I crawled around to a slightly better angle.

At half 3 a massive catch of salmon arrived. I have never seen and will likely never again see so many dead Atlantic salmon. I had rehearsed the sampling procedure many times but with this many fish at once under time pressure it was overwhelming. I found a clear table and dawned my butcher’s apron and left-hand glove, before setting out all the sampling kit, SLR camera and cleaning clothes. Nothing for it but to dive in and if time ran out the essential adipose fin clip check would be done quickly on all fish (potential indication of a tag).

The routine I liked was as follows: Measure fork length – photograph – take adipose fin clips – inspect for sea lice, take samples –inspect for tags and abnormalities –  take scales – weigh then transport fish while on the scales to the ‘finished pile’ – then write down the weight and start again.

I don’t have previous experience of sea lice identification so just took samples and recorded the number of lice per fish. There were 73 salmon and I counted 21 large sea lice in total making that 0.28 lice per fish. There was only one salmon with a predator wound into the flesh which did not look life-threatening. Most were around the 2.5kgs (gutted weight) mark and in good condition.

There were 2 much larger fish -the largest of which had obviously been enjoying its squid, capelin, amphipods or sand lance- and measured 87cm with a gutted weight of 6.23kgs. Perhaps the live weight of this fish would have been over 16lbs.

Looking back at the sample data from the 2017 season for all West Greenland, at the time of sampling North American fish were predominantly 1 sea-winter (92.5%) and European (93.1%). If we go with the assumption that the 2 larger fish I sampled are currently 2 sea-winter they would be 3, 4 or on extremely rare occasions 5 sea-winters upon return to freshwater.

Sampling the 73 took 6 hours without any break and my back and neck were stiff by the end.

The hotel kindly left me out a dinner to microwave and while eating it the aurora borealis appeared outside in the southern sky. I wrote up the samples and filled the vials with RNA later (genetic tissue stabilisation solution) until midnight then saddled up and headed up to the heli pad at the other end of town with the camera. This was the best location to get away from light pollution and see the northern sky. The aurora forecast was kp 4 with a ginormous solar storm strength of G0 on a scale of G0-G6! Regardless, the aurora was out and I stayed until 1am. The settings I finished up with were ISO 2000, F4, 20 second shutter, and focused just short of infinity. The camera takes 30 seconds to process each image so I left it out overnight on a timer taking a shot every 55 seconds to collect in the morning.

11th September – Gyr falcon

Apparently some salmon are being landed tomorrow so I shall wait and see. Nothing doing at the market in the morning and very few boats going in and out apart from one leaking lots of oil. From spy hill I spotted a boat in a scrap yard named SALOMON, Maniitsoq so I went to photograph it. As it was overcast I used high dynamic range where 3 different exposures are combined into one picture creating an effect:

I asked the guys at the market how long it was since this boat was fishing and they did not understand. I asked was this when there were many kapisillit and they said yes.

The huge Royal Arctic Line container ship was loading and unloading so I took a timelapse. After lunch while waiting at the pier beside the market where boats dock to unload fish 2 boats arrived, one of which I could see down in to revealing a box of fish well covered in ice. I was standing in a group of locals watching so couldn’t get the binoculars out but I heard the word kapisillit being mentioned. I asked a man that I knew and he said ‘maybe, I don’t think so’. I got the impression -which could be entirely false- that this particular fisherman was not bringing the box up as he knew I was there. I told Alpen that I thought there were kapisillit at the pier and he had a look but could not be sure. I decided to wait in the market for the next 2 hours to no avail. I walked away to spy hill and once I was several hundred metres away spied back periodically but nothing moving.

A weather front was rapidly approaching from the ocean so I set up the wide-angle lens. I noticed an unusual movement in the viewfinder and looked up to see what I thought was a gyr falcon! I had been looking out for one since arrival and here it was, 30 yards above my head. I scrambled to change to the long lens during which time the falcon dive-bombed a gull to the ground and missed it by inches. The bird rapidly disappeared over to the heli pad and away from the rain front. Gyr falcons are the largest falcon and live mostly in arctic tundra. They hunt many creatures and also spend time at sea and on the pack ice. Climate change is thought to be reducing their range as the peregrine range is moving northwards and peregrines (although smaller) are though to outcompete gyr falcons. See pics (wee brother tells me it is a juvenile).

Headed back to the rest at the market until closing time. Aurora level 6 (red alert) for my timezone tonight but pretty cloudy so not hopeful. Level 4 tomorrow and less cloud.

 

10th September – First snow of winter

The market was busy again this morning and the guys unloaded and butchered another pickup load of the minke whale. I offered to help but there were many hands. The whale was 7m long and was not weighed in full but a 10m minke whale can weigh 10t. It sold for 50 Danish Krone per kg (80% split between the 4 fisherman and 20% to the market). In our money that is exactly £6000 per tonne.

Minke whale is listed as ‘least concern’ by IUCN but cannot be exported out of Greenland without a CITES permit (see this picture for a schematic chart showing all restricted species). 

Having not seen the sperm whales in 24hrs I climbed spy hill again and it looks like they have gone south. As the clouds and rain started to clear I set up a timelapse every 5 seconds on the big camera to try to capture the changing weather, tide and moment of the town. Went to a cafe in town for lunch in the hunt for Greenlandic food but the menu only had fast food. The man who had waited patiently for me to sample his kapisillit 2 days pervious sat down beside me in the café and asked me how the trip was going and why so few salmon? I said I have been enjoying exploring the area and taking pictures then he put his palm down on the table and said “OK I find you at the market and we take the boat up fjord with my friend and go fish and you take pictures.” I said I have a bottle of malt and we shook hands.

The only kapisillit I got today was the front third of a nice fish about 10lbs which is no use for sampling. A talkative local told me that there will not be many salmons for another 14 days. Looking in to the ICES data I misinterpreted a blog written by a previous sampler mentioning over 500 salmon sampled (which was actually the total sampled at all regions that year). In a very good year Maniistoq produces 180 fish between 2 sample shifts of around 15 days each.

Aurora forecast level 4 tomorrow night so I climbed 1000 steps up to the heli pad to scope a shot to the North up the fjord.

9th September – Minke

Sure enough the market opened early to welcome the minke whale. It was winched up on to the pier in fish-box-sized chunks then taken round to the market in the back of a few pickup loads. 5 guys spent 2 hours carefully butchering and bagging it and around 30 customers came in to purchase.

No more kapissilit today and the market closed at 14:30 with it being a Sunday. There was light rain but I saddled up and headed off to try to photograph the peregrines and have a cast for a coastal charr.

8th September – Kapisillit

The town was very busy today as the passenger ship was in port. The market was also busy with customers and a large volume of animals were landed. 11 seals and 5 porpoises were landed today and customers were able to pick the cut they wanted and watch the butchers take the cut. Along with 4 porpoises and 2 seals a man appeared with 2 kapissilit! I got my kit ready and asked him if I could sample them and he said yes. Before I could start the market staff weighed them after gutting and before they were of the scale there was cash down on the counter from customers for both fish. I said hello to the 2 locals who had made the purchase and handed them the NASCO leaflets about the sampling programme. They were fine with me sampling and 5 or 6 people watched intently as I took the samples in a hurry. The fish had gutted weights of 2.4 and 3.4kgs and were in good condition, no sea lice. I returned to the hotel to enter the data into the database and the chef kindly placed the fin clip samples in the fridge.

Overcast and light rain today so I didn’t leave the town. One of the few mini-trawlers returned to port and unloaded over 100 small boxes of what looked like small cod and whitefish.

As I write at 7pm the moby dick boat returned full of meat. With the binoculars I can see that they have either landed and fully butchered a minke whale, or multiple smaller animals. It is 3C here so they covered the meat with a tarp overnight and left in the boat. The crew of 4 took a carrier bag worth home for dinner.

7th September

Lawrence Belleni, a high school friend and past Forth Rivers Trust staff member sampled in Maniitsoq in 2014 and has been an invaluable source of information. I went to the market this morning with a clearer idea of everyone’s names, interests and which premier league team they supported. During a period of 2 hours or so the guys skinned and butchered 4 reindeer (tutu) (the haunches of which were purchased rapidly), and 2 porpoises (niisa). Porpoise are the smallest whale and are very common between Maniitsoq and Nukk to the south.

I saw a man staring at me from outside through the glass and he came in and asked me something in Greenlandic. The manager of the market responded that I am here to sample the salmon and the man bent over, looked at me, shook his head and said no…. This is the only feeling of reluctance I have seen so far.

Later on in the day 5 salmon were landed in a boat at the pier but they did not come through the market and disappeared before I could get samples.

In the late afternoon I climbed up to the whale spying hill as I had seen the whale close to shore at lunchtime. It was now very far out so no more pictures. Spy hill is a useful vantage point as with my binoculars I can spy down into every boat entering and leaving the harbour to spot salmon boxes.

Sunshine forecast tomorrow so good salmon netting conditions. The market closes at 14:30 so I am thinking about heading up the mountain behind Maniitsoq in the afternoon. Tomorrow night is potentially the only clear sky night for the next week so I plan to attempt to photograph the aurora.

There are 2 chefs at my hotel, 1 Danish and one Greenlandic. I bought the later a beer the other night and played a Greenlandic dice game called Myer. The hotel is owned by Danes and most of the food is imported to the dismay of the chef and I. There are no Greenlandic options on the menu at all.

6th September – Rest day

It was forecast 4C and rain all day so I spent some time in the market where they had redfish (sulippaagaq), catfish (qeeraq), harbour porpoise (niisa), harpseal (allattooq), cod (saarullik) and dried minke whale (minke) for sale. By evening most of the fish had been sold apart from the dried minke whale.

Spirits are low today and the adrenaline of arrival in Greenland and endorphins from the hike are wearing off. After hearing from the Inuit about the decline of salmon I saw the news breaking from home around the Isle of Lewis fish farm sea lice infestation video and the Garynahine wild salmon video. These made me sad and angry.

The advent of cheap HD underwater cameras has huge potential in highlighting issues below the surface and I imagine there will be more videos in relation to salmon farming. I shared the Lewis video on my own facebook page and got zero comments and close to zero views in 24hours. I then shared a picture of an arctic fox and people went wild. We still have work to do in conveying the plight of fish as intelligent, sophisticated creatures and perhaps there is also a need to raise public awareness of the relationships and differences between farmed and wild salmon…

5th September – Vulpes lagopus (Arctic fox)

Calm weather today and lots of fishing boats heading out to sea first thing. I visited the market at 8 but there were no kapisillit. There were 2 harpseals (allattooq) for sale. I now had a photograph of a topographic map for Maniitsoq with ocean depths so set off for the closest point I thought I could catch a cod. To get to the peninsula I had to go through the village dump to see the gathering pile of items from the post-westernisation period in Maniitsoq’s history. There was a lot of plastic, insulation sheets and metal. I climbed up over a pass towards the sea and heard a bark which sounded like a fox. I got the camera out and attached the big lens. Down near the sea in among car-sized boulders I saw the arctic fox. It was a youngster from this year and seemed curious of me. I got down behind a rock and started squeaking it closer and moved down to get it in a position without the bright ocean backdrop. Over a period of half an hour it allowed me to get within 30 yards and then another fox appeared high on the cliff above with a deeper call. I assume this was mum or dad.

I went down for a quick cast and landed 4 or 5 cod (saarullik) including one about 8lbs. I kept three -two for the market and dropped one down into the fox den. On arriving at the market there were no kapisillit but they did have fresh cod already so I took the cod to the hotel kitchen where they were gladly received. After lunch I went back to the market and spend an hour over coffee and Maltesers with the staff. Alpen is the head man and has been there for 11 years after being a fisherman. He has two daughters who were outside and many foster children, one of which popped in to say hello. Alpen talked about the decline of the salmon and how every boat in Maniitsoq used to fish for them. Now there are few salmon left. A call came in to Alpen’s assistant who quickly turned into the energizer bunny. A minke whale had been spotted close by and the men were readying an old boat that looked similar to the one in jaws with a harpoon mounted on the bow. Alpen asked if I had a Greenland phone number and I said yes. He will now call me if any kapisillit are landed.

I had dinner with the 3 swedes (camera man, presenter and guide) I met on my flight in who had returned from 5 days charr fishing. They were filming an episode for a Swedish fishing series filmed all around the world. They had been drinking for a while to celebrate the end of their trip and I learned much about the relationships between the Scandinavian countries and how Sweden has many successful companies such as Erikson, Nokia and Volvo whereas Norway can sit back and enjoy the oil money. They also debated this weekends Swedish elections where perhaps after many years of open borders to immigrants the Swedish public will elect a right-wing government. I suggested that they try Greenland coffee so the camera man grabbed his camera and our waitress poured them the drinks. They offered me but I politely declined as it is £18.

4th September – Whale tails

Breakfast at 7 and down to the market before it opens at 8, except it didn’t open. I sat and conversed with 3 old guys who were also a bit peeved at the Market not being open. One of them remembered Helen and Denise (previous samplers from Scotland and Canada respectively). I waited until 9 and no sign of life so headed back to catch up on the laptop. The whales appeared very close to shore so I dashed of to climb a hill out beyond the harbour to get a good shot. On my way there I called in to the market and asked if any Ka-pish-il-it has been caught. Instead the market was full of reindeer meat, 100 Danish Krone for a bag of around 10kgs. Another helpful older man came over to speak to me and wanted to take me along the street to show me something… I had no idea what he was saying but followed on regardless. We walked for 400 yards and sure enough it was the cod ranching he wanted to show me! It is a new venture for the town and is expanding rapidly so people seem quite stoked on it. He also took me through a tour of the huge fish processing factory and identified his friends in pictures on the walls who used to work there in the hay-day. It seems like the operation is much reduced now.

Eventually I scrambled up to the hill past the harbour to spy for the whales. They surfaced further out in their usual place but the sun had just come out so I spent an hour photographing them and the fishing boats going past. There were thousands of kittiwakes and gulls out at sea near the whales and there was also a 30ft fishing boat with a harpoon mounted on the bow fishing near the whales. On the depth chart there is a shallow reef which I assume is why they were targeting that area repeatedly for the rest of the day. The whales took no attention of the fishing boat but dived when a high speed RIB full of tourists charged directly at them.

I asked whether the market would be interested in taking some of the cod I was trying to catch and they said yes so I headed down for a cast. I hooked 2 fish that were so powerful I physically could not haul them up. They were stronger than yesterdays catch of 7lbs or so and both broke my line. I gave up and headed straight to the fishing tackle section of the supermarket to buy stronger braid than the 20lbs I currently had on. 250 yards of 30lbs braid, 5 42gram lures, some superglue for my shoes and “reje salat” (prawn salad) in the bag for lunch.

Nothing more happening at the market today and a quiet night at home.

3rd September – First day at the fish market

Breakfast at 7 then got the welly boots and old waterproofs on to dress as close as possible to the other fisherman I had seen. Headed down to the market with a box of Walkers shortbread and a big toblerone to introduce myself. I have a bottle of single malt for later in the week if required or perhaps to give to the hotel staff for looking after and feeding me for 2 weeks. The rain was lashing down and there were fisherman loading meat at the back of the market and a few staff and customers in the front. I wandered in to see 2 porpoises spread across the table split into every possible cut. As I walked in a lady left having purchased 4 halfs of a fish which I could just see through the plastic bag. It looked as though it could have been a salmonid (charr or salmon) but impossible to tell. I said hello to the man at the counter who pointed over to a big fellow sitting down making a coffee in the corner. I went over and shook his hand and introduced myself to Alpen. I said kaaa piish ilit and it was obvious from his body language that there were no salmon today. He asked how long I was here for and I said 2 weeks and he smiled and said “you are welcome here in the market” and pointed around the place. I said thank you and asked if the salmon nets were set out at sea and he said yes. I said should I come back tomorrow and he said yes. I headed back to my room to watch the harbour for any fishing boats returning to the market with fish boxes for the rest of the day.

During dinner I met a Danish guy who had just returned from 9 weeks charr and caribou guiding in the wilderness. It was his first time in Greenland and he was leaving tomorrow so he said we have to try Greenland Coffee. I obliged and our barman poured a half pint glass full of coffee, Irish whiskey, Khalua and something else which he lit on fire and poured in from height. -Delicious. We were joined by the hotel staff and 5 local guys who told us all about Maniitsoq, polar bears and the new cod ranching operation taking off in the harbour below us. Apparently cod are caught from the wild and are either grown on for the western market or starved to remove all fat for the Chinese market. I asked whether anyone still kayaks here and a kind fellow offered me the use of his kayak and kit any time while I am here. Several of the guys around the bar were not originally from Maniitsoq but had moved from remote settlements. They seemed to miss that way of life.

2nd September – Recovery

The old firm started at 9 local time so I listened to that on the radio after breakfast as my legs slowly came to life again. I was about to do some admin when mr sperm whale appeared again so I packed up and headed out to climb a big rock headland to get a closer photograph. There were 2 of them now but further out to shore than usual. I brought the fishing rod and headed down to cast off the rocks and wave to the locals as they motored past. I have never fished anywhere so deep before. Cast the 28gram toby then wait for 2 minutes and still never felt the bottom. Start reeling with the lure almost vertically below you then bang, first cast something much stronger than yesterday. I shut the drag off and put as much pressure in to it as I could and began to make ground. Max pressure for 60 yards of reeling to keep the head up and stop it getting into the rocks. A very fat cod surfaced and looked to be at the absolute limit of what I was able to haul up the rocks. Beauty around 6-7lbs.

Headed back and phoned home and slept for a while before a 3 course dinner (2 of which were given to me on the house!) So I paid 150DKK (£18.00) for a 3 course meal!!) I have been tipping heavily for the first few nights so this shall continue! After the meal the waiter kindly helped me with my pronunciation of hello my name is Sean and I would like to see your salmon’s.

“Haluu, Sean-mik ateqarpunga,

Kapisiliutisi takusinnaavakka?”

Spent a couple of hours after dinner prepping the sample kit, re-reading the sampling protocols and filling in as many sample numbers and details as possible on the record sheets and scale packets to save time while sampling fish.

1st September – 11 hour hike

Since getting my dates from Tim Sheehan (Programme co-ordinator with NOAA) and booking flights I knew that Sat and Sun 1st/2nd September would be my only full days free as sampling starts on Monday and continues every day until I leave. Despite yr.no forecasting rain earlier in the week the forecast was revised to 100% sunshine so we were on. I packed before breakfast at 7 then headed off with a printed-out satellite map from google (could not find a topo map for sale) and a small tourist map of the village with a suggested hiking route for the first hour. I planned to walk until lunch then return or find a loop route if possible. Upon leaving the town it became immediately apparent that there are no paths, just rocks with X painted on to follow. The topography is like an extreme version of Harris and you have to scramble up and over mini mountains constantly. Two peregrines (adult and juvenile) erupted out of the scrub and started screeching at me and playing in the air. I grabbed my camera out the rucksack and put on the long lens just in time to grab a few shots. The tourist map took me to the point where there is a narrow land bridge linking to the rest of the island.  I then had to choose between 2 different paths leading North west or inland. My mission was to catch a sea run arctic charr so I headed inland towards what I thought would be the biggest single catchment/ stream on the island. After a 600ft scramble I could see that navigation on the island was very difficult or impossible and decided to follow a rocky valley down to the sea about 5 km away. The catchment held promise of a stream at the end. I arrived in the bay to see a boat powering out so there must be some fish around. Had lunch at the sea pool but no charr moving. There was a tiny 2 ft wide pool below a waterfall as the stream joins the sea so I looked in expecting nothing and around 10 charr up to a pound erupted. No luck catching them now.

Headed off to a headland for some sea fishing and caught several cod up to 4lbs. One of which was followed in to the edge by a huge Greenland halibut over 3ft long. Tried fishing the lochs on the way back but nothing doing. I stopped to change socks and put plasters on 2 pressure points in my soles which did the trick. Legs starting to hurt now and my garmin says over 10 kms still to go. My Spot tracker did not manage to get a signal but I was hopeful of one at the top. Saw some nice montane scrub and lots of ravens overhead. There was a nice periglacial frost heave stone circle feature in the stones.

Starting to get tired now and following the X markings home. Still no signal on the spot so first phone signal I got I checked in with Alan. In my haste I chose the wrong line of X’s near town which took me all the way to the airport adding 3 k to the day. Eventually made it home and ate 2 salads (free salad bar), a starter and a main. Garmin says 30km and 8,800 ft of climbing and that my average heart rate was 126 and max 183 which is my highest ever!

 31st August – Arrival

Very long day today with a 5am start. Raining in Copenhagen and lashing rain in Kangerlussaq (central Greenland). Eventually boarded a small 20 seater plane to Maniitsoq and fortunes changed as the sun came out and I met a Canadian guy drilling for nickel and a whole fishing party from Sweden led by Christer Sjoberg who founded LOOP tackle. Great to meet some people and get the low-down. The previous week they had lots of charr up to 10lbs. Christer is staying at my hotel in between fishing trips and wants to talk to me about a new salmon film he is making and he needs data and wants to talk about the conservation side of his planned film. Great views of glaciers and mountains on the flight. Arrived at Maniitsoq and started walking the 3km to my hotel by foot with 46 kgs of bags to test how long it would take a local to pick me up to get the craic and save Scottish Government a big taxi fee. Sure enough 2 minutes later a pickup stopped and a local Inuit fishing guide picked me up and said that the salmon netters are just about to start to fish this season. He even carried my bags in to the accommodation for me and got a box of Walkers shortbread for his troubles which he tried to refuse. I got in to my room with a big window overlooking the harbour so I got the binoculars out and started watching all the fisherman going about their business. One shortly left with an enormous reindeer haunch in the front of his boat and many others headed out to sea with salmon sized fish boxes…. Something caught my eye out at sea. Put the bins on it then a massive whale surfaced and cruised along for a minute before making a deep dive. Grabbed the camera and tripod out of the suitcase… It came up once more and I got a picture of the tail at long range with the 400mm. I think it is a sperm whale but need more info. Certainly not a humpback based on the tail.

Lovely dinner here and just been reading up on the local area. Wonderful place and really nice people. Planning a big walk around the island tomorrow first thing as the weather is good.