NEWS: Nunavut October 28, 2011 - 9:46 am

Nunavut ups West Hudson Bay polar bear quota

"Inuit knowledge and observations indicate an increasing trend in this subpopulation"


(updated Oct. 28, 11:30 a.m.)

Nunavut has decided to increase the polar bear quota for the 2011-2012 for the Western Hudson Bay polar bear population.

The increase will see a jump in the quota from eight to 21 bears for the area around the communities of Arviat, Baker Lake, Whale Cove, Rankin Inlet
and Chesterfield Inlet.

That number represents less than half the quota of 56 set for 2006-2007.

Nunavut then cut back its polar bear quota in 2007-08 to 38, and then down to eight per year after a Government of Nunavut survey failed to find enough polar bears to justify a large hunt.

Those survey results said the numbers of polar bears in Western Hudson Bay population had dropped from 1,200 in 2005 to 950 in 2006.

A new aerial survey population study was conducted in 2010 and 2011 — although its results haven’t been made public, they may be fueling the GN’s support for an increase in the number of polar bears for hunters from the western Hudson Bay.

“In Nunavut, we have seen remarkable recovery of our polar bear populations since their historic lows in the 1970’s,” Nunavut’s environment minister Daniel Shewchuk said in an Oct. 28 news release. “This is because our management system is designed to respond and adapt to new information, and takes into account both scientific and Inuit traditional knowledge.”

The environment departments recommended a quota increase “following extensive consultations with the affected communities and the Kivalliq Regional Wildlife Organization,” the news release said.

Scientific population estimates have suggested declining numbers for polar bears in Western Hudson Bay, the GN release acknowledged. “[But] Inuit knowledge and observations indicate an increasing trend in this subpopulation.”

The Department of Environment recommended that the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board set a new quota for the West Hudson Bay polar bear population.

For the 2011-12 season that works out to 42 polar bears overall.

Of the 42, four polar bears are expected to be harvested by hunters in Churchill as part of their polar bear deterrent program.

That leaves 38 for Nunavut.

Seventeen of these polar bears will be used to compensate for over-hunting during previous years.

This adds up to a quota of 21 polar bears for the western Hudson Bay communities for 2011-12 season.

The regional Inuit organizations will divide the quota among the five communities, the GN said in a backgrounder to its news release.

Results from the aerial survey population study conducted in 2010 and 2011 will be taken to western Hudson Bay communities for consultation this winter, the GN said.

The GN then plans to work with its wildlife co-management partners on a long-term quota for the Western Hudson Bay polar bear population

Most polar bear biologists believe that the western Hudson Bay population is in decline due to climate change. There is less ice, which bears depend on to catch seals. The Canadian Wildlife Service has reported bears in the area are more skinny, less healthy, and are having more problems reproducing.

Scientists have linked earlier breakups to poorer physical conditions in polar bears in the Western Hudson Bay. There, from 1980 to 2004, the animals’ average weight has declined by 65 kilos to 230 kilos. Below 189 kilos, another study shows polar bears have trouble reproducing.

(more to come)