Hunting of caribou belonging to Labrador's George River herd has been severely restricted. ((CBC))

A new conservation plan aimed at saving a dwindling caribou herd in Labrador will have devastating consequences, outfitters say.

The Newfoundland and Labrador government this week cancelled the commercial hunt of the George River herd, after a new census showed that its population had dropped by more than 90 per cent in 17 years.

"I was devastated. To see it come so sudden and so blunt — for us, it's quite harsh," said Gary Travers, whose company Labrador Caribou Outfitters has depended on the annual hunt.

"I knew [there] was something coming up, [but] I didn't think the changes were going to be this drastic."

Travis said he will need to cancel nearly 50 bookings.


Hollis Yetman says the new rules will have a great impact on many Labrador families. (CBC)

Environment and Conservation Minister Charlene Johnson has also halted the transfer of licences — which allowed a holder to arrange for someone to hunt on their behalf — and cancelled the ability of out-of-province individuals to participate in the hunt. As well, non-aboriginal Labradorians have been limited to one caribou each. Aboriginal hunters are allowed to hunt as they wish.

Those rules will also have an impact, said Happy Valley-Goose Bay hunter Hollis Yetman.

"We usually harvest two caribou per year for our own consumption. I usually get a caribou for my parents who don't hunt and have lived in Labrador their entire lives, [as] third-generation Labradorians," Yetman said.

Johnson said government needed to take strong action on the hunt. The latest count put the George River herd at 74,131 animals, down steadily since a 1993 count of 776,000 caribou.