Nunavut hunters cry foul over new polar bear management scheme

Polar bear hunters in Nunavut's Gulf of Boothia region say the Nunavut government's approach to polar bear management leaves them out of the equation.

A new polar bear management regime would see Inuit hunters lose their accumulated and unused polar bear tags

A polar bear walks with her two cubs over the ice near the Boothia Peninsula, where hunters say the polar bear population is thriving.
A polar bear walks with her two cubs over the ice near the Boothia Peninsula, where hunters say the polar bear population is thriving. (Jane George/CBC)

A new polar bear management system received an icy reception in Iqaluit Wednesday at a Nunavut Wildlife Management Board discussion on the polar bear harvest in the Gulf of Boothia region.

A recently approved credit-based system, the Harvest Administration and Credit System (HACCS,) offers no improvement over the existing quotas in place since 2005, said Ema Qaggutaq, the Kitikmeot Regional Wildlife Board's liaison officer, who presented on the group's behalf at the management board meeting.

"The current polar bear management plan and HACCS continues to encourage the perception and management of polar bears as 'credits' and numbers. This contrasts Inuit views of polar bears as animate and responsive to how people think about, talk about and treat them," Qaggutaq said.

The Gulf of Boothia polar bear subpopulation — about 1,600 bears — boasts the highest density of polar bears in Nunavut.

Hunters in the region say the number of polar bears has risen and their physical condition is robust.

"Community members have reported they are encountering more Gulf of Boothia polar bears in the last two decades," Qaggutaq said.

"Hunters can tell the subpopulation is increasing because of how easy it is to encounter and or hunt bears, observations every mating season, encountering more females, young bears, and or females with ... up to four cubs, and bears going into meat caches," he said.

"Behaviour also changes when there are more bears. Polar bears are more aggressive when there are higher densities of them."

A map shows the location of the Gulf of Boothia polar bear subpopulation.
This map shows the location of the Gulf of Boothia polar bear subpopulation. (Nunavut Wildlife Management Board)

Quota change to trigger loss of accumulated tags

But now polar bear management is heading in the wrong direction, Qaggutaq said. 

Hunters in Gjoa Haven, Sanirajak, Igloolik, Kugaaruk, Naujaat, and Taloyoak in the Gulf of Boothia region haven't met their full annual quota of 74 polar bears for years, according to information shared at the NWMB meeting. So they amassed a credit of 141 polar bears as of the 2019–2020 harvest season. 

But with quota changes ahead, they may lose all their accumulated credits for the polar bears they didn't hunt.

That's because the new Harvest Administration and Credit System puts all credits back to zero when quotas are changed.

The reset of credits to zero for Boothia polar bear hunters without a big quota increase is "unfair," Qaggutaq said.

Hunter and Trapper Organization speakers from the affected communities said the Gulf of Boothia quota should be increased to 100. 

Several speakers also deplored the Government of Nunavut's lack of communication with Inuit.

NWMB chairperson Dan Shewchuk suggested there needs to be more community consultation on the use of credits and the new management scheme.

Possible up-listing of polar bears as species threatened with extinction

During the meeting, Lauren Schmuck, a representative of Environment and Climate Change Canada, also reminded those present that Nunavut's polar bear management is scrutinized internationally for its sustainability.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES, whose members will meet in November in Panama City, has previously recommended up-listing the polar bear from CITES Appendix II to Appendix I.

A move to up-list polar bears to Appendix I would put polar bears in a category reserved for species threatened with extinction such as tigers, gorillas, rhinos and panda bears, and ban all international trade in polar bear parts.

A statement from Joe Ashevak from the Spence Bay Hunters and Trappers Association filed with the NWMB said that the "polar bear is our diet and the members of Taloyoak would like to hunt not only for the sales of the hide but to make clothing out of it."

The NWMB board will make its recommendation on polar bear management in the Boothia subpopulation to the territory's environment minister. 


  • An earlier version of this story described Ema Qaggutaq as the chair of the Kitikmeot Regional Wildlife Board. In fact, he is the board's liaison officer. This story also said that the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board would make its recommendation on polar bear management to the federal environment minister. In fact, this recommendation will go to the territorial environment minister.
    Jun 16, 2022 8:44 AM CT


Jane George is a reporter with CBC Nunavut. Prior to August 2021, George worked at Nunatsiaq News for more than 20 years, winning numerous community newspaper awards.