Proposed Baffin Bay polar bear quota rejected

Nunavut's environment minister has rejected a wildlife regulator's recommendation for how many polar bears should be killed each year in the Baffin Bay region.

Nunavut's environment minister has rejected a wildlife regulator's recommendation for how many polar bears should be hunted in the Baffin Bay region.

The current quota allows the killing of 105 bears a year in the region, which stretches from Baffin Island in Nunavut to northern Greenland.

The territorial government asked the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board in 2008 to consider a smaller bear harvest or a hunting moratorium in the region.

The board's response, which came in December 2009, has not been made public, but Environment Minister Daniel Shewchuk didn't accept it, officials have confirmed.

"The minister replied to the board and rejected its decision," Charlotte Sharkey, the wildlife board's acting director of wildlife management, told CBC News on Wednesday.

Although the board operates at arm's length from the government, its recommendation needed final approval from the minister.

Meeting in February

Sharkey said she can't say what the board recommended for a quota or why Shewchuk rejected it. The board will meet in mid-February to come up with another proposal for Sewchuck to consider, she said.

Scientists and Inuit have long disputed the number of polar bears in Baffin Bay. Biologists have raised concerns about overhunting and a decline in bear numbers, saying the combined hunt in Greenland and Nunavut is not sustainable.

Inuit hunters, however, say the number of polar bears is rising, not shrinking.

The wildlife board held two public hearings to discuss the government's quota request: one in Pond Inlet in April 2008 and one in Iqaluit in September 2009.

Won't respect cut

In Pond Inlet, Jayko Allooloo of the Mittimatilik Hunters and Trappers Organization said he is anxious for a decison after such a long consultation process.

But if the harvest is cut, Allooloo said, hunters in his area will not respect the new quota.

"If the minister or [the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board is] cutting down all the quota from Baffin Bay, the hunters will be harvesting like the way it used to be," he said.

Allooloo said Inuit hunters in Baffin Bay would be willing to discuss government compensation in exchange for a reduced hunting quota.

Ultimately, he said, Inuit will continue to hunt polar bears — in Baffin Bay or elsewhere — for food and hides.