The Nunavut Wildlife Management Board wants public input on a proposal that could reduce the number of western Hudson Bay polar bears that can be hunted.

The board will hold public hearings April 24-25 in Arviat to discuss the proposal, which was recently submitted by the territory's environment department. It lists several options, from reducing the total allowable harvest quota to imposing a total ban on hunting the bears until the species' numbers improve.

Currently, 56 polar bears can be harvested each year. Scientists and Inuit hunters have disagreed over whether the bear's population is shrinking or growing, with scientists claiming that their numbers are less than 1,000 and hunters arguing it's more than that.

Wildlife board chairman and CEO Joe Tigullaraq said Wednesday that any decision to change the bear quota will depend largely on what people and organizations say at the public hearings.

"We want to make the public hearing as transparent and as fair as possible to everybody, to all the players," he said.

"It could go either way… the decision made by the board will largely depend on the information provided to the board during the public hearing."

Hunters concerned

Hunters in Nunavut Kivalliq region are concerned with the proposal, as the western Hudson Bay polar bear hunt affects five communities in the area.

That has prompted the Kivalliq Wildlife Board to send representatives, including a team of elders, to the upcoming meeting.

"For the community that lives near the Hudson Bay area, with the polar bear, they make an income with the polar bear skin and whatnot. So that's going to affect a lot of people," Kivalliq Wildlife Board president David Aksawnee said.

Organizations that want to submit written comments on the issue must do so by April 11.

The wildlife management board expects to put together its decision and submit it to Nunavut's environment minister sometime after the meeting.

The environment department wants a decision made soon because it wants a new management plan in place before July 1, which is the start of the polar bear season.

The western Hudson Bay polar bears live "near the southern limit of the distribution of the species, where it is most vulnerable to changes in ice formation as a consequence of environmental or climatic fluctuations," according to Environment Canada's website.

Hinterland Who's Who estimates that "the current world polar bear population is probably 25,000 to 30,000. The Canadian population likely exceeds 15,000."