Weeks before election, Nunavut government raised polar bear quota
Minutes of multi-stakeholder meeting show minister increased harvest for Kivalliq polar bears
The Government of Nunavut has increased the total allowable harvest for Western Hudson Bay polar bears to 34 animals, just weeks after telling the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board that a lower quota would stay in place for now.
Environment Minister Joe Savikataaq, the MLA for Arviat South, approved an added six polar bears to the existing quota for the Kivalliq region after receiving a recommendation from Nunavut’s wildlife board that was passed during an in-camera meeting, Sept. 20.
That’s according to minutes released from an Oct. 3 teleconference between the NWMB, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., Kivalliq hunters and territorial officials.
There are no details about the why the minister decided to change his mind and go against the advice of his staff—in the teleconference minutes, his decision is mentioned only in passing.
The NWMB is an institution of public government established under the Nunavut Agreement and its recommendations are given significant weight, but the territorial government still has the final say when it comes to harvesting quotas.
Territorial officials told the wildlife board that it would not budge on the previous quota of 28 polar bears in the Western Hudson Bay region, during a meeting in Iqaluit on Sept. 11.
“Its very difficult, almost impossible, to recommend, from a scientific point of view, increasing the quota,” the GN’s wildlife director, Drikus Gissing, told the NWMB board in September.
But the “passionate presentation” at that September meeting by Kivalliq Wildlife Association President Stanley Adjuk compelled the wildlife board to return to the issue and go against the GN’s recommendations, the board’s acting chair, Dan Shewchuk, told Nunatsiaq News, Nov. 1.
“We listened to the evidence and we decided at this point in time that we make an interim decision… to raise it to 34 because the population at this point, we feel, is a stable population,” he said.
Nunavut communities along the western coast of Hudson Bay have repeatedly called for an increase to the annual polar bear harvest, citing it as a public safety issue for hamlets which report near-daily incursions by bears into the municipality, particularly during autumn.
“All the communities are feeling it, and Arviat is having real issues with polar bears, as everybody knows,” Shewchuk said.
Shewchuk said the 34-bear quota will be in place for at least the rest of the year, but the board is characterizing it as an “interim decision” until public consultations are held in Rankin Inlet, Jan. 9 and Jan. 10.
Those consultations are being held, in part, due to complaints from some Kivalliq hunters over the timing of previous consultations on polar bears, hosted by Nunavut’s Department of Environment, which were scheduled during the summer months.
“After the hearing, we will make another decision, whether it is the same decision, different decision, up or down,” Shewchuk said.
“We’re going to listen to what everyone has to say.”
Gissing, who attended the Oct. 3 teleconference, said he believed adequate notice was given for the summer consultation, but admitted that the “timing was not the best,” according to the meeting’s minutes.
But that July consultation was scheduled, in part, to accommodate demands for the territory to make a decision on the polar bear quota in time for the 2017-18 harvest season, Gissing added.
During the teleconference, Gissing also requested that the NWMB provide the government with consultation guidelines that it would consider adequate so that Environment Department officials can improve their process.
That GN’s recommendation on polar bear quotas includes a reset back to zero for polar bear credits given to communities charged with defence kills so those defence kills don’t count against the number of tags handed out for harvesting polar bears.