Caribou sales to Baffin region should be tracked, say Kivalliq MLAs and hunters

Politicians and hunters groups in the Kivalliq want to know how meat sales between Nunavut regions are impacting caribou populations, especially between the Kivalliq and Qikiqtaaluk regions. 

'We have to have a management regime in place in order to sustain the caribou herd,' says Cathy Towtongie

Nunavut's Department of Environment says it has no way to track how many caribou from the Kivalliq region are sold to buyers in the Baffin region. These caribou are seen near the Meadowbank Gold Mine in Nunavut in 2009. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Politicians and hunters and trappers organizations in Nunavut's Kivalliq region want to know how meat sales between regions in the territory are impacting caribou populations — but right now, there's no way to track how much meat is being sold. 

That's what Nunavut's Department of Environment told Arviat North-Whale Cove MLA John Main in a written response to questions asked in the legislature during the fall.   

The government can only track country food sales from commercially licensed sellers. But a lot of caribou harvested in the Kivalliq are sold privately through personal channels and social media. 

The department said it's seen a "steep increase" in those styles of sales since numbers of caribou in the Qikiqtaaluk region dropped in 2014. It has tried to track shipments, but has no information to date from Nunavut airlines about the transportation of caribou between regions.

What is known, is people from the Qikiqtaaluk are paying high prices to have meat shipped from other regions — a whole caribou can sell for $500. The department listed "high prices and the knowledge among harvesters that there is substantial money to be made from selling caribou" as one reason for the trend. 

These sales are perfectly legal. But Main, along with Cathy Towtongie, MLA for Rankin Inlet North-Chesterfield Inlet, and the Rankin Inlet hunters and trappers group want to see inter-regional caribou sales more directly monitored. 

Sales are a source of income

Arviat North-Whale Cove MLA John Main wants to see the government talk to communities about managing caribou sales. (Beth Brown/CBC )

"Some of my constituents are concerned about this and some of my constituents are profiting, and putting food on the table for their family," said Main, who asked the government for written details on the monitoring of meat sales between Nunavut regions.

Under the Nunavut Agreement, harvesting and selling caribou is a right for Inuit, and there are no requirement for hunters to report their sales.

I don't want to vilify people who are making money off of caribou.- John Main, Arviat North-Whale Cove MLA

The agreement states "an Inuk shall have the right to harvest that stock or population in the Nunavut Settlement Area up to the full level of his or her economic, social, and cultural needs."

That's barring any quota, and there are none for caribou in the Kivalliq.

Hunters also have the right to "dispose freely" of any legally harvested wildlife. This includes the right to "sell, barter, exchange and give," caribou away, within or outside of Nunavut. 

"I don't want to vilify people who are making money off of caribou," Main said. "My constituents are seeking a way to make a living. The conversation has to go, 'what can be done?'"

Rankin Inlet elders concerned 

In Rankin Inlet, the Kangiqliniq Hunters and Trappers Organization is compiling a report for the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board using interviews from elders who say they're concerned about these meat sales. 

"They've noticed a shift. We're not sharing caribou meat as much and we're selling more than we used to," said Clayton Tartak, environment and research co-ordinator for the organization. 

Rankin Inlet North-Chesterfield Inlet MLA Cathy Towtongie says unregulated caribou harvests lead to meat wastage. (Nick Murray/CBC)

Hunters and trappers organizations can create bylaws to regulate caribou sales, but they don't have the capacity to enforce them, Tartak explained. Right now, there also aren't enough factual information to know if private sales are an "actual or perceived issue."

"We need to know how much caribou is being sold before any decisions can be made," Tartak said. "The first step would be monitoring." 

Hunt needs monitoring: MLA

MLA Towtongie is concerned about irresponsible harvesting practices, like meat wastage — where only prime cuts like the hip are taken — or theft, when a buyer sends money but never receives meat. 

"It's a cultural shift to a materialistic hunting style from [a] domestic style hunting where you get the meat for your family and your community," she said. "This type of killing is for financial gain."

Towtongie wants to see more protection in place for both consumers and harvesters. 

"We have to have a management regime in place in order to sustain the caribou herd," she said. 

Kivalliq Arctic Foods in Rankin Inlet, run by the Nunavut Development Corporation, is the only commercially licensed seller of caribou meat in Nunavut. It processes around 500 caribou each year.

 A few years ago, the meat processing plant in Rankin Inlet worked with the hunters and trappers group to improve conservation, shortening its harvest season by starting in January instead of the fall. 

This helped cut down on the number of female and younger caribou being hunted during the fall, because bulls aren't edible then, explained Kyle Tattuinee of the Nunavut Development Corporation. 

This year, stock ran out in September, and the plant won't have product again until early February. But the caribou the plant processed were better quality, Tattuinee said. 

"The caribou are healthier and they're bigger," he said. "It's an effort to preserve the herd ... to help the herd be sustainable in the long run."