Nunavut internet meat sales worrying, caribou board says
“We are putting out feelers to all the communities — we really need to get better harvesting information"
In the absence of reliable harvesting numbers, and suspecting that internet caribou meat sales and other factors are seriously impacting the Kivalliq region’s Qamanirjuaq caribou herd, an advisory board that monitors caribou has increased the herd’s vulnerability rating to “medium-high.”
That means more needs to be done, and fast, to prevent the barren-land caribou herd from suffering the fate of the Bluenose-East herd, said Ross Thompson, executive director of the Beverly and Qamanirjuaq Caribou Management Board.
The Bluenose-East herd in the western Arctic has declined by 80 per cent over the last decade to an estimated 40,000 animals.
“One of the things we’re really concerned about is wastage and internet sales from the Kivalliq region over to Iqaluit,” said Thompson.
“We are putting out feelers to all the communities — we really need to get better harvesting information.”
According to Government of Nunavut aerial surveys in 2015, the Qamanirjuaq herd’s population has dropped to an estimated 264,000 animals, down from 349,000 in 2008 and nearly 500,000 in 1994.
The Beverly and Qamanirjuaq caribou herds occupy a huge range that includes Nunavut and the Northwest Territories as well as parts of northern Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
The Beverly and Qamanirjuaq Caribou Management Board is a co-management body with representatives from provincial, territorial and federal governments as well as Aboriginal groups and impacted communities.
Thompson said a Qamanirjuaq harvesting quota would be premature at this stage because of a lack of solid data.
And he added that Inuit have the right to harvest and sell meat under the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement and the board does not dispute that.
But he said as part of the BQCMB’s management plan, it’s their job to compile harvesting information, but that’s difficult when no one keeps track of Nunavut caribou meat sales over the internet.
The informal but growing meat sale industry in Nunavut is controversial.
Some hunters oppose the practice saying it goes against traditional Inuit values. Others say in a place where jobs are scarce, it’s a valuable and accessible income.
Thompson said they have no hard numbers, but based on anecdotal evidence from community members, they suspect the amount of meat sold and shipped out of Kivalliq might exceed the subsistence hunt in that region.
The caribou board recently met with representatives from Calm Air, a Manitoba-based airline that serves the Kivalliq region.
Calm Air said without disclosing client information, they would be willing to tally meat shipments and provide that information to the board.
The Nunavut government has sent letters to Nunavut’s major airlines to gather meat freight information but as of March, had received no response.
“Without being able to track it we don’t know how much damage it’s doing,” said GN wildlife biologist Mitch Campbell in March. “[But] they’re not obligated to respond to our letters.”
Many suspect that a lot of the caribou meat is destined for the Baffin region where a severe population decline lead to a small, strict quota of 250 male caribou for all of Baffin Island.
In a May 26 news release, the BQCMB outlines a five-point plan to support the health of the herd into the future.
That plan includes drafting and circulating good harvesting protocols which include: limiting wastage, donating unused meat to nearby communities, harvesting only males whenever possible, limiting disturbance and protecting core calving grounds, post-calving areas and key water crossings.
“It’s important to prepare people so they know that recommendations on harvest of the Qamanirjuaq herd may be coming,” said the BQCMB chair, Earl Evans, in a May 26 news release.
“People were caught by surprise by the Bathurst caribou situation. Now that herd has declined so much people don’t have caribou and there are concerns that this situation could become permanent if the herd becomes so small it can’t recover.”
The BQCMB recently got a $25,000 grant from World Wildlife Fund Canada to develop education materials around sustainable harvesting through its Arctic Species Conservation Fund.
Thompson said they hope to make videos geared toward youth of elders talking about traditional hunting practices for use in schools and on social media.
Thompson said it’s also encouraging that the federal government’s Nunavut General Monitoring Plan — a federal land claim requirement to monitor the impact of development in Nunavut — lists caribou as its top priority in 2016-17 for project funding.
But some things aren’t so encouraging.
This past March, the GN revealed that it would no longer support a policy of blanket protection for core calving and post-calving grounds in the Kivalliq in a Nunavut Land Use Plan, which is currently being drafted.
Some Kivalliq hunters and wildlife bodies were shocked to hear that news in March when it was delivered by a GN senior bureaucrat at land use plan hearings.
Nunavut Premier Peter Taptuna defended the government’s position saying Nunavut must balance environmental protection with development and jobs for Nunavummiut and that other bodies, such as the Nunavut Impact Review Board, would provide caribou protection through the environmental assessment process.
Thompson said the board was both surprised and disheartened by the GN’s new stance. “We feel the rug was pulled out from under us,” he said. “It couldn’t come at a worse time.”