Draft land use plan fails to protect Nunavut marine mammals, say territory's hunters

Hunters across Nunavut are calling on the Nunavut Planning Commission to protect waterways populated by walrus, seal and beluga from increased shipping traffic as it drafts the territory’s first land use plan.

‘Every time the shipping starts, the sea mammals move,’ says chair of Chesterfield Inlet HTO

'We live heavily off seafood so (the lack of shipping regulations) worries us,' said Barnie Aggark, the chair of the Chesterfield Inlet Hunters and Trappers Organization. (Canadian Press)

Hunters across Nunavut are calling on the Nunavut Planning Commission to protect waterways populated by walrus, seal and beluga from increased shipping traffic as it drafts the territory's first land use plan.

The Planning Commission recently hosted a technical meeting to gather input from stakeholders on how to balance the needs of industry, local communities and the environment when it comes to the territory's marine areas.

Coastal communities in the territory's Kivalliq region say they are severely impacted by increased shipping and want greater protection for their waterways in the land use plan.

A map of marine transportation routes through Nunavut's Kivalliq region. Coastal communities in the Kivalliq say they are severely impacted by increased shipping and want greater protection for their waterways in the land use plan. (Nunavut Planning Commission)
"Every time the shipping starts, the sea mammals move," said Barnie Aggark, the chair of the Chesterfield Inlet Hunters and Trappers Organization.

The draft plan does not contain restrictions on shipping through Chesterfield Inlet. 

Aggark said in the past the community would see approximately three to five ships annually in their waterways, en route to the hamlet of Baker Lake.

"But since Meadowbank (mine, located 75 kilometres north of Baker Lake) has started, it's increased a lot more each year," said Aggark.

"They started off with about 25 to 30 ships, but today, we see between 40 to 50 ships pass by."

Harder to find seals

'It’s a tough situation,' said Aggark, 'even belugas, they don't come like the numbers they use to.' (YouTube)
Aggark said that during shipping season, it's become much more difficult for local hunters to find seal in the region, as evidenced by an Arctic College workshop held last year, where participants signed up to learn how to make kamiit, or sealskin boots. 

"The hunters couldn't even provide enough sealskin because there was nothing to hunt," said Aggark. "They actually had to order some sealskin from out of the community.

"If it was 10 years ago, the fur they needed probably could have been filled the same day."

The numbers of beluga in local waters has also decreased, according to Aggark, leading to a "tough situation" for locals who rely on the Arctic whales for food.

The Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Louis S. St-Laurent sails past an iceberg in Lancaster Sound on July 11, 2008. Currently, Nunavut's draft land use plan does not contain restrictions on shipping through Chesterfield Inlet, though local hunters are asking for changes. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)
Chesterfield Inlet is also concerned about other risks associated with increased shipping, such as an oil spill.

"We live heavily off seafood so that worries us," said Aggark. "We don't have anything in Chester in place to try and help keep the spill contained until the Coast Guard come in."

The Kivalliq Wildlife Board, representing hunters and trappers from various hamlets in Nunavut, wants the territory's land use plan to designate Chesterfield Inlet as a special management area, placing limits on the volume of ships permitted to travel through the inlet each year.

Walrus habitat at risk

'There’s not as much walrus right now as they use to be,' said Moses Nakoolak, the chair of the Coral Harbour Hunters and Trappers Association. (submitted by Eepa Ootoovak)
Similar concerns are being echoed in the hamlet of Coral Harbour, where many residents rely on meat hunted from local walrus populations.

"There's not much walrus right now as they used to be," said Moses Nakoolak, the chair of the Coral Harbour Hunters and Trappers Association, who added that increased shipping traffic is to blame for driving the populations away.

"It's very important, because it's our meal mostly every day."

The Kivalliq Wildlife Board is asking for restrictions on shipping near Coates, Southhampton and Walrus Islands, which are located near Coral Harbour, as well as asking for shipping routes to be moved to the south of Coates Island rather than between Coates and Southampton Island.  

A map of Walrus haul-out locations in the territory. Nunavut hunters are particularly concerned over the impacts of industry activity and ship traffic on walrus haul-outs. (Nunavut Planning Commission)

Although the draft land use plan "provides direction to regulatory authorities to mitigate impacts on walrus haul-outs," the Kivalliq Wildlife Board wants greater protection, calling for a prohibition on mining, exploration, and related activities at walrus haul-out sites, and asking for marine shipping traffic to maintain a minimum distance of 20 kilometres from these sites.

About the Author

Sima Sahar Zerehi

Sima Sahar Zerehi is a reporter with CBC North. She started her career in journalism with the ethnic press working for a Canadian-based Farsi language newspaper. Her CBC journey began as a regular commentator with CBC radio's Metro Morning. Since then she's worked with CBC in Montreal, Toronto and now Iqaluit.