Public hearings wrap up for 2018-19 Western Hudson Bay polar bear quota

The current quota is 34 bears. Some community groups say they want a higher number.

Environment and Climate Change Canada asks board to take 'precautionary approach' for setting the next quota

A polar bear walks over sea ice floating in the Victoria Strait in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. A public hearing about Western Hudson Bay polar bear hunting quota wrapped up in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, this week. (David Goldman/Canadian Press)

A public hearing to determine the 2018-19 hunting quota for Western Hudson Bay polar bears in Nunavut wrapped up in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut last week.

In September last year, Nunavut's environment minister at the time, Joe Savikataaq, accepted the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board's recommendation to increase the total allowable harvest to 34 bears for the 2017-18 harvest season. The initial quota was 28 for the season.

The territorial Department of Environment's most recent aerial survey of the Western Hudson Bay polar bears counted the new estimate of about 842 bears.

This compares to the previous estimate of about 1,030 bears in 2011.

Despite the decrease in surveyed population of about 18 per cent, the Government of Nunavut said results and comparisons of both studies show this subpopulation of polar bears "has remained relatively stable."

In a written submission dated Nov. 23, 2017, Environment and Climate Change Canada says the long-term trends toward earlier sea ice breakup and later freeze-up is directly impacting the bears' access to seals — their main prey.

Department officials point out a growing number of independent, scientific studies suggest the Western Hudson Bay polar bear population "is not healthy and that the ecosystem is not stable."

"It is this weight of evidence that warrants a precautionary approach be taken when setting harvest levels," wrote department officials.

Communities, groups want higher quota

At the hearing, some communities and groups recommended higher quotas for the next hunting season, said Jason Akearok, executive director of the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board.

Some delegates recommended 40; others, like the Arviat Hunters and Trappers Organization suggested almost doubling the current quota.

"We know for a fact that they're only going to give us half," said Paul Kablutsiak, a member of the Arviat Hunters and Trappers Organization. 

"So our goal is to ask for 60 tags if that makes it easier for us."

Akearok said the board will analyze all submissions (written and oral) and come to a decision by March.

With files from Jordan Konek