Baffin caribou co-management plan shows “high compliance,” minister says
But some Inuit concerned with long-term plan that limits hunt
During the 2016-17 harvesting season, hunters on Baffin Island took just 233 caribou, Nunavut’s environment minister told the Legislative Assembly this week.
That’s well within the total allowable harvest, or TAH, of 250 male caribou on the island, imposed by the Government of Nunavut in 2015 in response to surveys showing a crash in the population of caribou in recent years.
Environment Minister Joe Savikataaq cited the numbers as an example of positive co-management of the region’s caribou herds.
“There has been a high level of compliance from the Hunting and Trapping Organizations, and hunters, in reporting their numbers,” Savikataaq told the assembly Sept. 13.
“The early success of this management initiative is indeed positive. However, the recovery of this herd will require a long-term effort, and we will continue to monitor the status of Baffin Island caribou to ensure that our conservation efforts are successful.”
That has some Inuit concerned.
Quttiktuq MLA Isaac Shooyook said hunters from his home community of Arctic Bay already have to travel far distances south to the Hall Beach region to hunt any caribou at all.
The limited male-only harvest adds another barrier for many hunters, especially elders who have traditionally enjoyed eating female caribou or calf meat, he told the assembly.
“In some ways it serves the purpose, but in other ways it is obtrusive,” Shooyook said Sept. 13. “Now I would ask the minister this question: how many years do you envision this limited caribou harvesting to continue?”
The current management plan and limited harvest is a short-term policy, Savikataaq acknowledged, but noted the GN does not have a long-term plan—that will depend on the outcome of a new caribou population survey.
“In looking at the long-term future of this limitation, we anticipate this to remain the same,” Savikataaq said.
“When the caribou population survey is completed and the numbers show either an increase or a decrease, we would look at it. In the meantime, the limit will remain at 250 tags.”
The GN does believe the caribou population will eventually rebound, Savikataaq added, at which point hunting organizations and wildlife management officials would sit down to reconsider the TAH, and whether one is still necessary.
In the exchange during question period Sept.13, Shooyook also threw out a scenario: what would happen to a hunter out on the land, low on food and gasoline, who decided to harvest three or four caribou? And what if they were female caribou?
Savikataaq said that Nunavut wildlife officials are dealing with violations of the TAH on a case-by-case basic. While a hunter who faced starvation would not likely be charged or fined for harvesting, he said there are a number of factors to consider.
Individuals convicted under the Nunavut Wildlife Act can be charged fines of up to $500,000, sentenced to six months in jail, or both.
Already, that issue has become legally contentious; Inuk hunter Michael Irngaut was charged in 2015 with two counts under Nunavut’s Wildlife Act for allegedly shooting and harvesting a caribou on Baffin Island just months after a moratorium was put in place restricting all caribou harvesting.
Irngaut’s legal team told a Nunavut court last month that it was considering launching a constitutional challenge over how penalties are applied to Nunavut Land Claims Agreement beneficiaries, whose hunting rights are protected under the Canadian constitution.
Section 5.7.27 of the NLCA says that “an Inuk with proper identification may harvest up to his or her adjusted basic needs level without any form of license or permit and without imposition of any form of tax or fee.”