Inuit debate polar bear quota

Nunavut and Nunavik hunters have tentatively agreed to a quota of 60 polar bears every year.

Nunavut hunters concerned too many bears killed in Nunavik this year

Inuit hunters (from left to right) Meeka Mike, Lew Philip and Joshua Kango skin a polar bear on the ice as the sun sets during the traditional hunt on Frobisher Bay near Tonglait, Nunavut Sunday February 2, 2003. Many Inuit blend modern life with traditional ways, going out in the dead of winter in search of nanuq, the polar bear.

Nunavut and Nunavik hunters have reached a tentative agreement on a fair number of polar bears to kill every year from the southern Hudson Bay population.

Environment Canada representatives proposed a quota of 60 bears per year from the total population at a meeting in Inukjuak, Que., last week. Now, Nunavik representatives have two weeks to consult with hunters before agreeing to a quota.

Last year, Inukjuak hunters took about 70 polar bears – far more than the 15 a year they traditionally harvest. The increase, driven by high prices for hides, prompted concerns from the Nunavut government and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc, an Inuit land claims organization.

Nunavut has a quota of 25 bears in its management zone. There is no current quota for Nunavik, a predominantly Inuit region in northern Quebec. Some Nunavut hunters are worried the scale of the hunt in Nunavik could threaten their future hunts.

Johnny Peters from the Makivik Corporation is responsible for wildlife in the Nunavik region.

He says the lucrative market for polar bear hides is not the only reason for the increased harvest.

"By Christmas time, there was still no sea ice," says Peters. "For that reason, the polar bears could not hunt the food they normally do when the ice forms… when the ice finally formed they congregated near the Inujuaq area."

James Eetoolook, vice-president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., says the proposed plan involves Inuit, Cree, wildlife management boards and governments.

He adds 60 bears per year is a good start.

"We want to see the international trade continue," says Eetoolook. "That’s where the high price is for the hides. We don’t want to lose that."

He added this is a strong example of hunters in Nunavut and Nunavik working together towards a successful management plan.

Quota numbers debated

Late last week, hunters still disagreed about a fair number of bears to kill.

"We could not get an agreement with Quebec to go back to historical harvest levels," said Drikus Gissing, the director of wildlife management for the Nunavut government.

"They did agree in principle to go down to 30 ... but there was not an agreement even on that."

Quebec’s government does not have the power to impose a quota system. But quotas can be placed through the government and wildlife organizations within Makivik, a Quebec Inuit organization.