The Nunatsiavut government has asked its people to stop the caribou hunt, a move that puts one of its most cherished aboriginal rights on the line.

Environment and Conservation Minister Tom Hedderson accounted last week that the George River caribou population is at an all-time low of 22,000.

In the 1990's, the herd was somewhere around half a million.

Rather than banning the hunt entirely, Nunatsiavut president Sarah Leo has asked everyone, including its own people, to stop hunting the herd.

"What we have to look at is the state of the herd and we have to look at the conservation of the herd itself," Leo said. "When you're looking at numbers that low, you have to consider all options, and at this point in time, we felt we would ask our beneficiaries not to harvest for two years."

Leo said that it was not an easy decision, knowing it is a very important food source for many people living in Labrador, but she thinks people will understand the importance of maintaining the caribou population.

"This herd is in serious decline and we need to do what we have to do to protect the herd so that it's around for future generations."

Torngat Mountains MHA Randy Edmunds said the George River caribou herd is a big topic all across Labrador.

"The realization that there may not be a caribou herd to harvest in the very near future, I'm hoping is going to hit home with all harvesters," Edmunds said.

Deputy Grand Chief Jeremy Andrews of the Innu Nation said the request caught him by surprise.

There had been discussion between the two organizations about the caribou hunt, but he said the Innu were not prepared to make a decision on the matter until they had consulted their elders - consultations that are still ongoing.

The Nunatsiavut government is also urging the provincial government to put together a management plan.

Leo said the provincial government needs to do more research into the herd and take firmer action until more information is known.