Nfld. & Labrador

Hunting of endangered caribou herd reported in Labrador

Endangered caribou herds are still being hunted this season in Labrador.

Reports of hunting as recently as last week by Quebec Pakua Shipi Innu on Labrador's south coast

George River caribou, spotted here outside Nain late last year, also have dwindling numbers, much like the Mealy Mountain Herd. (Submitted by Brandon Pardy)

Quebec Pakua Shipi Innu hunters were reported to be harvesting caribou on Labrador's south coast within the last week, in spite of regulations protecting the endangered herds throughout Labrador.

François Lévesque, a lawyer for the Quebec Pakua Shipi Innu band, confirmed those reports.

"They never recognize even the border, so they don't recognize the laws," said Lévesque.

"As well, these people have been there way before you had laws and bylaws and whatever in what you call Labrador — they've been doing this 20 years ago, 30 years ago, last year, last week. We will keep going."

Caribou herd numbers have been dwindling for years due to poaching, and a hunting ban for the George River caribou herd has been in place in Labrador since 2013.

Other herds of caribou in Labrador are on the endangered species list, and are therefore also illegal to hunt.

"It's a difficult situation, particularly for some of our communities, and you know, we issued a press release again in January asking our people to refrain from hunting both on the George River and on the Mealy Mountain herd," said George Russell, NunatuKavut's manager of environment and natural resources.

Herd numbers down more than 99% in 25 years

In the early 1990s the George River herd was an estimated 800,000 caribou strong. By 2018, that number had shrunk to below 5,500.

"Caribou herds of Labrador are threatened under the federal Species at Risk Act, and people have to be able to govern themselves and educate their people on what's happening," Russell said.

"These herds are critically low in numbers in some areas and people have to think about conservation and the long term of what could happen if everybody decides to go out hunting."

François Lévesque is the lawyer for the Pakua Shipi Innu. (Submitted)

The issue isn't a lack of knowledge but rather a lack of concern, said Hollis Yetman Jr., a former wildlife officer and the vice president of the Labrador Hunting and Fishing Association

"Everybody knows the caribou numbers are low, it's no shock to anybody, it's no surprise to anybody and the guys that are doing it don't care, it's just as simple as that — but other people care," he said.

"I appreciate that caribou is culturally important everybody in this region is aware, however, we can't continue to kill caribou that are dwindling in numbers."

Hollis Yetman Jr. worked for the Department of Fisheries and Land resources for 18 years. (Katie Breen/CBC)

However, Lévesque blames the herd's low numbers on megaprojects throughout Labrador such as Muskrat Falls and Voisey's Bay.

"For sure it is not the Red Wine mountain herd because the Muskrat Falls development wiped them out," Lévesque said.

NunatuKavut is continuing to monitor caribou herds on the south coast of Labrador.

"We've recently hired two new guardians for the Cartwright area. We're trying to stay proactive," Russell said.

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