The European Union ban on polar bear trophies could be lifted, depending on the outcome of an upcoming survey of the animals in the Baffin Bay-Kane Basin area.
The EU banned the import of trophies from the area between Greenland and Nunavut in 2008, after its scientific review group reviewed population and hunting numbers provided by the territorial and federal governments and decided polar bears in the region were being overhunted.
The ban could be lifted relatively quickly, however, if the survey planned for next year finds higher numbers of the animals than previously reported, said Marco Valentini, chair of the EU's scientific review group.
"The trade ban for polar bear was not published in the official journal of the European Commission because once it's published, we have to wait at least one year to reconsider even if the decision is upturned," Valentini said.
The EU ban, which came soon after a U.S. ban was imposed, has hurt Inuit communities, hunters say, as fewer sport hunters are coming from Europe because they can't take their bear hides home.
"It has been one of the difficulties for the hunters, as they have lost the source of income for their family," said Harry Alookie, a hunter in Qikiqtarjuaq, Nunavut. "If it was lifted, it would help the community, as it had benefited in the past."
The communities of Grise Fiord, Clyde River and Pond Inlet have also been affected by the ban.
'Ready to reconsider,' says EU
All EU countries would be involved in any decision to lift the ban, Valentini said, and they will consider the size of the hunt, survey results and the effects of climate change.
"We are ready to reconsider our decision in the right moment, when we are provided with enough data to be confident that the uptake of some specimens is not detrimental to the survival of the population," he said.
Nunavut Environment Minister Daniel Shewchuk announced in March that the total allowable harvest in Baffin Bay would decrease by 10 bears a year over the next four years, reducing the quota from 105 bears to 65 bears by 2013. Hunters from Greenland kill 68 each year, a drop over the last three years from as many as 200 bears a year.
Nunavut and Greenland will work together on the survey of polar bears in Baffin Bay-Kane Basin, which is still in its planning stages.
Inuit hunters say the number of bears has been increasing, but most scientists disagree.
Ian Stirling, a Canadian Wildlife Service scientist and University of Alberta adjunct professor who has studied polar bears for 38 years, has said there were 1,200 in western Hudson Bay in 1987, but the number had declined to 935 by 2004.
Before the E.U. will lift the ban, the federal government will have to make a "non-detrimental finding" — that the hunt is sustainable and the polar bear population viable — for Baffin Bay-Kane Basin.
An earlier version of this story stated erroneously that there were an estimated 12,000 polar bears in western Hudson Bay in 1987. In fact, the estimate was 1,200.Oct 17, 2013 9:52 PM CT