The federal government has raised the number of bowhead whales that can be hunted each year in Nunavut.

The Nunavut Wildlife Management Board announced Wednesday that Federal Fisheries Minister Gail Shea accepted its recommendation that the bowhead harvest quota be set at three whales per year for the next three years.

In previous years, Nunavummiut could only harvest one bowhead whale every two to three years. That quota — also known as the total allowable harvest — was raised to two whales last year.

"It's exciting for the harvesters in Nunavut," Harry Flaherty, the wildlife board's acting chairman, told reporters in Iqaluit on Wednesday.

"After we had conducted a public hearing regarding [the quota] for bowhead, that information that was provided by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans… stated that they were sustainable."

Concerns about the health of bowhead whale populations in the eastern Arctic originally led to the hunting quotas.

But officials with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans have recently said a 2004 aerial survey found that Nunavut's bowhead population is stable.

Earlier this week, a national scientific committee that advises the federal government on species at risk downgraded the eastern Arctic bowhead's status from a threatened species to a species of special concern.

Flaherty said that after his board conducted public hearings on the bowhead quotas in February, they were notified that there were more than 14,000 bowhead whales in one population in Nunavut waters.

"Based on that, I believe they made the decision that they are sustainable and we could move ahead with that," he said.

Flaherty added that he is not worried if animal-rights activists raise the alarm over the harvest of nine bowhead whales over the next three years.

Under Nunavut's Inuit land claim, the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board can recommend that the fisheries minister change quota levels in the territory.