A larger than usual polar bear hunt in northern Quebec could hurt bear numbers in southern Hudson Bay and possibly lead to more trade bans, say environment officials in nearby Nunavut.
Hunters in Nunavik, a predominantly Inuit region in northern Quebec, have told CBC News they have harvested more than 60 polar bears in the southern Hudson Bay area so far this year.
The soaring price currently being paid for polar bear hides is a factor behind the large hunt in Nunavik, according to Quebec's ministry of natural resources.
Epoo Kasadluaq, coordinator of the hunters' support program in Inukjuak, Que., told CBC News that that given the high prices of polar bear hides, the hunt is bringing in much-needed income to his impoverished community.
Speaking in Inuktitut, Kasadluaq said he believes hunters in Inukjuak have killed at least 60 polar bears since Jan. 1.
The latest figure is much higher than the 47 harvested polar bears cited by Quebec government officials to CBC News last week.
Fewer than four polar bears have been hunted in the same region every year for the past five years, according to the provincial government.
No fixed quota system
Environment officials in Nunavut, which shares the southern Hudson Bay polar bear population with northern Quebec, say the Nunavik hunt is not sustainable.
"They don't have [a] quota. That's something that we have been concerned about," said David Akeeagok, Nunavut's deputy environment minister.
"Any kind of increase of numbers that doesn't have a management system in place is worrisome."
Hunters in Nunavik has no fixed quota system. Meanwhile, Inuit hunters in Sanikiluaq, a small Nunavut community on the Belcher Islands in southern Hudson Bay, have a harvest limit of 25 polar bears a year.
Quebec government officials said they have already asked hunters in Inukjuak to reduce their hunt.
But hunters in Sanikiluaq have said that the large hunt in Nunavik could reduce the number of polar bears they can be able to harvest in the future.
Can't get firm numbers
Drikus Gissing, Nunavut's director of wildlife management, said his officials have had a tough time getting firm numbers from Quebec about the polar bear hunt there.
"We are concerned because we know that there are no conservation officers on the ground," Gissing said.
"When we did express our concern about the perceived high number of bears being harvested this year, it wasn't very easy for them to confirm or deny the harvest."
Gissing said an Ontario biologist has estimated that a total combined hunt — including those from Nunavut, northern Quebec and Ontario — of 40 to 45 polar bears in southern Hudson Bay would be sustainable.
Nunavut officials say they're also worried that the increased hunt in Nunavik could affect international export permits for polar bear hides.
A ban on expert permits is already in place for polar bears in Baffin Bay, leading officials to fear that another ban could be imposed to protect polar bears in southern Hudson Bay.
Both Gissing and Akeeagok said all jurisdictions have expressed interest in working together to manage polar bear harvests.
In Inukjuak, Kasadluaq said he is also in favour of developing polar bear management agreements.