Nunavut MLA says GN should do more to prevent caribou overhunting

Caribou are being “massacred for financial gain” in the Kivalliq region, says MLA Cathy Towtongie


Inuit Qaujimaqatuqangit says hunters shouldn't kill the lead caribou guiding the herd across rivers—but that's what is happening near her home community of Rankin Inlet, says Nunavut MLA Cathy Towtongie. (FILE PHOTO)

Inuit Qaujimaqatuqangit says hunters shouldn’t kill the lead caribou guiding the herd across rivers—but that’s what is happening near her home community of Rankin Inlet, says Nunavut MLA Cathy Towtongie. (FILE PHOTO)

Preliminary results from a 2017 population survey show “a continued declining trend” for the Qamanirjuaq caribou herd in Nunavut’s Kivalliq region, the Nunavut environment minister revealed June 11 in the territorial legislature.

But hunters continue to overhunt, in defiance of traditional knowledge, by picking off the caribou at the front of the herd as it migrates across rivers, said Cathy Towtongie, the MLA for Rankin Inlet North and Chesterfield Inlet.

That practice goes against Inuit Qaujimatuqangit, she said.

“When caribou are starting to cross rivers, the first caribou are not supposed to be killed. No matter how poor they look or what condition they’re in, the first caribou to cross a river must never be killed,” Towtongie said.

Towtongie wanted the environment minister, Joe Savikataaq, to say why his department doesn’t enforce traditional knowledge with respect to caribou management.

But Savikataaq said there are no rules protecting caribou crossings and in any event, that his department can’t monitor all rivers, although Towntongie said she’s most concerned about the river near her home community of Rankin Inlet.

Caribou from the herd are also being “massacred for financial gain,” Towtongie alleged.

It’s commonly known that caribou meat is often sold online, mainly through Facebook postings, from hunters in the Kivalliq region to buyers in the Baffin region, which has a severely restricted hunt.

Towtongie’s remarks came after Savikataaq, in a minister’s statement, provided an update on the Qamanirjuaq caribou herd.

As Nunavut’s largest herd, the Qamanirjuaq herd is “an important source of food and income for many Nunavummiut,” he said.

The Qamanirjuaq herd, which spans Nunavut, the Northwest Territories, northern Manitoba and northern Saskatchewan, provides an estimated $11 million in harvests annually.

The new population assessment is the first since 2014, Savikataaq said.

That survey showed that the size of the herd had dropped to an estimated 264,000 animals in 2015, down from about 349,000 in 2008 and nearly 500,000 in 1994.

“My department will continue to work with the Beverly and Qamanirjuaq Caribou Management Board and our co-management partners to determine if management actions are necessary,” he said.

For the past two years, the Beverly and Qamanirjuaq Caribou Management Board and officials have tried to convince airlines to provide more information about the transport of caribou meat, especially between the Kivalliq and Baffin regions.

People in the Baffin region have been hungry for caribou meat ever since Baffin’s caribou population declined, prompting the GN to ban harvesting and then to impose an annual quota of 250 bull caribou.

In the absence of reliable harvesting numbers, and suspecting that internet caribou meat sales and other factors have seriously affected the Kivalliq region’s Qamanirjuaq caribou herd, the board increased the herd’s vulnerability rating to “medium-high.”

The board has encouraged good harvesting practices such as 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, such as those referred to by Towtongie.

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