Canada and Greenland are setting up a polar bear commission that will ensure bear populations that are shared between both nations will be protected and managed properly, Environment Minister Jim Prentice said Friday.
Speaking to reporters from Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, where he signed a memorandum of understanding with his counterparts in Greenland and Nunavut, Prentice said the joint commission will have representatives from all three governments.
The commission will come up with appropriate polar bear hunting quotas — known as total allowable harvests — for parts of the Arctic that are shared by the two regions.
"That joint commission will establish the total allowable harvest for the Kane Basin and the Baffin Bay, and these are the two management units that we co-manage," Prentice said.
"That information will then be referred to user working groups, they will have a period of time to then deal with how the total allowable harvest is to be split between Canada and Greenland, and we'll proceed on that basis."
Two Nunavut Inuit organizations, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. and the Qikiqtaaluk Wildlife Board, will also have members on the commission.
Nunavut Environment Minister Daniel Shewchuk, who also attended the Kangerlussuaq signing, said in a release that the memorandum of understanding opens up other opportunities for the three jurisdictions to work together on polar bear management.
"Co-ordinating our efforts with respect to research methodologies and the exchange of multiple sources of knowledge will help us make the wisest possible management decisions for our polar bear populations," Shewchuk stated in the release.
"We look forward to exploring the many ways this joint commission can work toward our shared vision for polar bear conservation."
Both Shewchuk and Prentice said the joint commission will make recommendations on hunting quotas, but not overrule the existing work of territorial governments and wildlife authorities such as the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board.
All three parties have been working for months on a conservation agreement that covers the Baffin Bay and Kane Basin areas.
Polar bear hunting in those two areas by Inuit from Nunavut and Greenland has caused international controversy in recent years, with biologists arguing that the combined level of hunting is not sustainable.