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ABSTRACT

As with all of the world’s ecosystems, the Arctic ecosystem is challenged by anthropogenic inputs. As a result of their global vision of the ecosystem in which they live, the Inuit community is concerned with the fact that traditional food may not be edible due to pollution. As part of a broader ecosystem health research program examining the biological, economic, and cultural impacts of environmental contamination in the Arctic, the aim of our project was to assess Arctic ecosystem health by the tentative bridging of scientific and traditional knowledge. Specifically, the goal was to verify a possible relationship between Inuit perception of the health of their ecosystem and scientific assessment of deformities, pollutant levels, and parasites in Arctic char, an important food source for the Inuit. In order to do this, it was necessary to take into account Inuit knowledge of contamination and perceived effects on human and ichtyofauna health.

Two fish sampling sites were chosen in Ungava Bay, Nunavik, (northern Québec, Canada) and field sampling took place in August 1994 during the upstream migration of Arctic char. While large amounts of parasites were observed, there were no evident signs of fish health alteration such as deformities or very low condition factors despite the common observation by Inuit that deformities were more abundant than in the past. Although the hypothesis that a possible increase in parasitism in fish due to anthropogenic pollutants could be neither proved nor completely disproved (in particular because of a lack of unhealthy fish), the research process has still proved to be useful; namely, to reassure stakeholders about the quality of the fish stocks studied, to enhance dialogues between researchers and the communities involved in the project, to provide an opportunity for regional stakeholders to guide locally relevant research, and to provide researchers with some understanding of the differences between risks perceived by the general population and dangers identified by the experts.