Polar bear hunting in Nunatsiavut legal and sustainable, hunter says

Negative online comments aren't surprising, says Derrick Pottle, but people are ill informed about the hunt.

Derrick Pottle says bears hunted in northern Labrador are from a healthy population and are used appropriately

The pelt from this polar bear, killed near Makkovik, was sold through an online ad which generated some critical and racist comments. (Submitted by Darrell Voisey)

Negative online comments prove that the public should be better educated about the reality of a polar bear hunt in Labrador, one Nunatsiavut hunter says.

Derrick Pottle, a longtime hunter in Rigolet wasn't surprised at the social media outrage, including racist comments, that came after another hunter — Darrell Voisey of Makkovik — tried to sell a polar bear pelt online.

But the comments are hurtful, Pottle said — and often ill informed.

"It is disturbing," Pottle told the Labrador Morning Show Wednesday. "I've been on the receiving end on many occasions by virtue of the lifestyle that we live. We harvest, we hunt, we gather and people don't always take the time to understand the reason and the rationale and the need behind it."

Voisey, who has had a licence to hunt polar bear for three years, harvested the bear near Turnavik Island, just outside Cape Makkovik.

He said his bear was hunted legally, and the meat saved to be eaten. 

After processing and freezing the meat, Voisey posted the 10-foot pelt for sale on the Corner Brook Classifieds Facebook page. The post attracted so many negative, and sometimes racist, comments that Facebook pulled it down.

'It's the lack of education'​

Polar bear licences are distributed each year to hunters on Labrador's north coast via lottery and the Nunatsiavut government encourages hunters to use all possible parts of the animal, Pottle said.

The hunt officially began in the mid-1980s with a quota of six bears for the area. In 2011 that was increased to 12 bears from the Davis Strait subpopulation — one that he said has been identified as healthy.

Voisey said hunting such a large polar bear is celebrated in his community, and would like people in other parts of the province and country to become more informed about the way of life in northern Labrador. (Submitted by Darrell Voisey)

According to data from Environment Canada, the Davis Strait polar bear management unit is classified as likely to increase this spring, with a population of up to 2500 bears.

To his knowledge, eight bears have been harvested in the area so far this season, Pottle said: three in Nain, three in Hopedale, and two in Makkovik. The season is still early, and hunting may have been affected by poor weather.

"Those bears were taken in a relatively small area, from just outside of Nain to outside of Makkovik," Pottle said. "That tells me there there's a lot of bears out there this season."

There's still a lot of people who eat polar [bear] meat and really enjoy it.- Derrick Pottle

Polar bear meat can be, and often is, eaten, Pottle said. He still has a piece in his own freezer, and said it can be cooked in the same ways you'd prepare any other piece of game.

"It's very common. You can get upwards of 1,000 or 1,200 pounds, or even more, of meat that you can utilize," Pottle said. "There's still a lot of people who eat polar [bear] meat and really enjoy it."

Sherri Woolfrey of Rigolet and her hunting partner shot this bear in 2015. A school in Iqaluit offered $5,000 for the pelt.

Considering that the bears are used appropriately, and come from a healthy population hunted legally, Pottle said that he thinks the online criticism boils down to a lack of updated and accurate information — something that reminds him of similar criticism of the seal hunt.

"It's the lack of education," Pottle said. "We see all of these people that's so willing and eager to jump on and make statements and comments, without having all the knowledge and information that they need."