Canada and Greenland join forces for the conservation of the Pikialasorsuaq Arctic polynya

News release

October 19, 2023

Ottawa, Ontario - Located in the waters of Canada and the Kingdom of Denmark with regard to Greenland, the Pikialasorsuaq or North Water Polynya, is a dynamic area of open sea that remains ice-free throughout the winter. It is one of the most biologically productive regions north of the Arctic Circle.

The Pikialasorsuaq is of great value to the surrounding Inuit communities: it provides a food source through harvesting, through its cultural and spiritual significance, and acts as a travel route connecting Inuit. The Pikialasorsuaq marine ecosystem is recognized as a vital habitat for many migratory species upon which Inuit depend, but is now under threat from climate change and increased human activity.

Today, the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, the Honourable Diane Lebouthillier, and her Greenlandic counterpart, the Minister of Agriculture, Self-Sufficiency, Energy and Environment, Kalistat Lund, signed the Letter of Intent for Cooperation on the Pikialasorsuaq which took place on the margins of the Arctic Circle Assembly, in Reykjavik, Iceland. The signing was witnessed by Qikiqtani Inuit Association (QIA) President Olayuk Akesuk, in recognition of QIA’s role as the Inuit partner to the Government of Canada in the discussions with Greenland, and in representation of Inuit in Canada living on the Pikialasorsuaq.

The Letter of Intent will allow for the implementation of a joint steering committee across Canada and Greenland, with representation from Inuit and national governments on both sides. The committee will share Indigenous knowledge and scientific information, work towards common conservation goals, and advance ecosystem-based management for the future of the Pikialasorsuaq. 


“The responsible management of the Pikialasorsuaq is crucial to the health of the species who inhabit it, but also to the health and well-being of the Inuit communities that this polynya supports directly. I am proud to sign this Letter of Intent, alongside counterparts in Greenland and in the presence of the Qikiqtani Inuit Association. This is a milestone for closer collaboration with our international partners and Inuit communities, and is an important step towards ensuring this critical body of water remains healthy and supports the needs of Inuit for years to come.”

The Honourable Diane Lebouthillier, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard

“The Government of Canada is working with Northerners and Indigenous partners, and globally to chart a new course for the future of the Arctic, shaped by new approaches and sustainable solutions designed by the North, for the North. The signing of the Letter of Intent for Cooperation on the Pikialasorsuaq was made possible by years of advocacy, dialogue, and hard work for the co-management of our ocean and marine resources. It represents what can be achieved when we combine international cooperation and strong collaboration with local communities and Inuit partners to strengthen Inuit-led marine management practices.”

The Honourable Dan Vandal, Minister of Northern Affairs

“There is no doubt that Pikialasorsuaq is changing. Citizens in the area feel the changes in nature and in the behavior of animals as a consequence of increased activity and climate change. Dealing with these changes is a common challenge across national borders, and it is gratifying that we are now entering into closer cooperation with Canada on this matter.”

Kalistat Lund,  Minister for Agriculture, Self-sufficiency, Energy and Environment

“The signing of the Letter of Intent and implementation of shared priorities on conserving Pikialasorsuaq underscores the importance of collaborative solutions for Inuit-led conservation in the Arctic. Our shared efforts are not only culturally significant but also indispensable in maintaining ocean health and addressing the challenges of climate change. Implementation of the key recommendations from the 2017 Commission’s Report are critical to Inuit on both sides of the North Water Polynya. Qikiqtani Inuit are actively engaged in conserving the living resources within and adjacent to Pikialasorsuaq therein securing related health and wellbeing for Qikiqtani communities.”

Olayuk Akesuk, President of the Qikiqtani Inuit Association

“Working in partnership with the Governments of Canada, Kalaallit Nunaat and Denmark, and the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, ICC will continue to support and develop a path forward for advancing Inuit-led marine conservation and management of the Pikialasorsuaq region, and to facilitate mobility for Inuit across these regions.”

Sara Olsviq, Chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council

Quick facts

  • Following the release of a 2017 report by the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC), which included recommendations for action on the Pikialasorsuaq, the Government of Canada began discussions with the governments of Greenland and Denmark with a goal of supporting Inuit-led conservation and management of the region. 

  • In 2019, through the Inuit Crown Partnership Committee (ICPC), the Right Honorable Prime Minister Trudeau and Inuit leaders issued a Pikialasorsuaq Joint Leaders Statement. 

  • Pikialasorsuaq is the Greenlandic name for the North Water Polynya, meaning “great upwelling” in the Kalaallisut dialect and is also known as the “Sarvarjuaq” in Nunavut, Canada.

  • A polynya is an area of open water surrounded by sea ice found in the Arctic and Antarctic regions and can be habitat for species such as seals, belugas, narwhals and can serve as a migratory route for marine mammals.

  • The Pikialasorsuaq is the largest polynya in the Arctic and the most biologically productive region north of the Arctic Circle. 

  • The Government of Canada, led by Fisheries and Oceans Canada, is working with the QIA to advance protection of the Canadian portion of the Pikialasorsuaq.

Associated links


Jérémy Collard
Press Secretary
Office of the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard

Kyle Allen
Director of Communications
Office of the Honourable Dan Vandal
Minister of Northern Affairs

Media Relations
Fisheries and Oceans Canada

Media Relations
Crown–Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada

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