DFO approves Nunavik’s new three-year beluga management plan
The region’s beluga harvest opened May 26
KUUJJUAQ—The federal government has approved Nunavik’s new beluga management plan just in time for this year’s harvest season, which opened May 26.
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans issued the decision May 15, signing off on a submission made by the Nunavik Marine Region Wildlife Board earlier this year.
That was based on months of consultation with Nunavik’s 14 hunters’ associations and Makivik Corp.
Under the new plan, in effect from 2017 through to 2020, Nunavimmiut can harvest the equivalent of 198 beluga whales from the eastern Hudson Bay stock—a number that’s increased by roughly five per cent from the previous three-year plan.
The Nunavik wildlife board had previously established a quota of 162 eastern Hudson Bay beluga over a three-year period, or 762 whales, from February 2014 to January 2017.
But the beluga harvesting season ended well before that; first in August 2016 when the region reached its quota. The wildlife board then requested an additional quota so a handful of communities could hunt during the fall.
That will now be taken off the new quota, bringing the quota to 187 belugas from the eastern Hudson Bay.
The plan aims to protect the eastern Hudson Bay stock of belugas which are considered endangered under the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada or COSEWIC.
Under a complex formula explained in the three-year plan, any beluga hunted outside of the area is counted against that sub-species, but at a different rate.
The system gives a different weight to beluga whales depending on where they’re hunted. In the Hudson Strait, for example, eastern Hudson Bay whales make up about 10 to 20 per cent of the local population, so each beluga caught there is considered one-tenth or one-fifth of a beluga, depending on the season.
But during consultations this past winter, local harvesting organizations told the wildlife board that hunters found the percentage system difficult to follow.
So the new plan gives the Regional Nunavimmi Umajulirijiit Katujjiqatigiinningit, or RNUK, the flexibility of the percentage system to guide the allocation process (see table below) although local groups will only work with whole numbers.
The final allocations by community for 2017, decided on and drafted by the RNUK last week, are listed in an embedded document below.
These cannot be transferred to other seasons or management areas without the RNUK’s approval.
At the request of hunters, the Ungava Bay and Hudson Strait zones have also been merged during the spring hunting season.
And, because the wildlife board could not reach an agreement, three areas in Hudson Bay continue to remain closed to the beluga harvest at all times: Mucalic Estuary, Nastapoka Estuary and Little Whale River Estuary.
A Kuujjuaraapik-based pilot project will proceed under the new plan. This project was to provide information for the new management plan but there weren’t enough belugas harvested in the last few years for researchers to reach any conclusion.
The goal of the project is to determine which beluga stocks these belugas belong to, by allowing local hunters to harvest James Bay area belugas in the first half of the year.
Hunters in the Hudson Strait also maintain that there are few eastern Hudson Bay belugas migrating in the late fall, and have asked to launch their own pilot project to prove the point.
Those communities believe they can tell the difference between stocks and target the healthier western Hudson Bay beluga stock.
So harvesters from the four communities will collect samples of all the belugas harvested near Ivujivik after Nov. 1 and near Quaqaq after Nov. 15.
Harvesters will be paid $125 for each returned sample kit.