The Nunavut government will allow a harvest of 250 male caribou on Baffin Island, effective immediately, Environment Minister Johnny Mike announced this morning, but most of the harvest should take place in the southern part of the island.

Johnny Mike

Minister Mike said in the release that 'Caribou are an essential food source for many families and decisions like this must maintain a fine balance between our peoples' needs and wildlife protection.' (Courtesy Johnny Mike)

"The densities of caribou in North Baffin are extremely low, and any harvest there may create conservation concerns," Mike said in a news release.

Mike suggested that the Qikiqtaaluk Wildlife Board, which is responsible for allocating the total allowable harvest, should set quotas that ensure "most, if not all of the harvesting takes place in Central and South Baffin."

In allowing the harvest, Mike was following the advice of the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board, which made the recommendation.

Once plentiful, Baffin Island caribou have largely disappeared in the last 15 years.

The environment department blames the natural cycle of the animals as well as increased harvesting pressure, due both to population growth and the increased reach of snowmobiles.

The government announced a moratorium on caribou hunting on the island in late December, with Mike calling it an "urgent situation."

An aerial survey in 2012 — the first ever of its scale — found only about 5,000 caribou on Baffin Island, a decrease of up to 95 per cent of population estimates in the 1990s.

A survey planned for this fall should provide new data on females and calves, the government says, which is an indicator of overall productivity.

The results of that survey, expected late this fall, will prompt more consultations.

"Caribou are an essential food source for many families and decisions like this must maintain a fine balance between our peoples' needs and wildlife protection, with continued vigilance in monitoring and re-evaluation of the situation," Mike said in the news release.