Wildlife board considers further reduction of Southampton caribou harvest

Herd is one-quarter of what it was in 1997


The Nunavut Wildlife Management Board is seeking public input on whether to further decrease the total allowable harvest for Southampton Island caribou.

The Government of Nunavut’s environment department and the Coral Harbour Hunters and Trappers Organization agree the TAH should go down from the current 1,000 animals to 800.

That’s below the island’s estimated subsistence harvest, which the GN says is between 1,000 and 1,500 animals.

The new TAH recommendation comes in light of a May 2013 survey that says the number of animals on the island at the mouth of Hudson Bay continues to shrink.

Based on that survey, Southampton Island has an estimated 7,286 caribou, one quarter of what it had in 1997 — 30,381.

This TAH reduction follows another one in July 2012 when the Coral Harbour harvest was reduced to 1,000 from 1,500.

At the time, then-Environment Minister James Arreak said the GN regretted taking “such drastic measures as to limit the harvest.”

The GN believes the die-off is partly due to an infectious reproductive disease called Brucellosis suis, which causes caribou pregnancy rates to plummet.

Brucellosis suis was first detected in the Southampton herd in February 2000.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency then tested 400 random caribou on the island over the 2005-2006 harvesting season.

Fifty per cent of test animals showed a prevalence of Brucella suis. That figure has now risen to nearly 60 per cent.

Because of the disease, caribou pregnancy rates dropped to 37 per cent in March 2011 from 93.1 per cent in 2001.

Variants of the disease can infect many different animals including pigs, hares, reindeer, moose, cattle, Arctic foxes and wolves. There is no known vaccine.

“This extremely high prevalence is troubling first and foremost as a human health issue, but also as a herd management issue,” the GN caribou report said.

For humans the disease can be a “serious, debilitating and sometimes chronic disease that may affect a variety of organs,” according to a 2009 fact sheet from The Center For Food Security and Public Health from Iowa State University,

“Most cases are the result of occupational exposure to infected animals. B. suis has also been weaponized and could be used in a bioterrorist attack,” it said.

NWMB chair Ben Kovic said humans can contract the disease by eating infected meat, but they can be easily cured through antibiotics.

“Proper cooking kills the bacteria. If you are infected you will feel like you have a flu — a simple blood test at your health care centre will tell you if you have the disease,” Kovic said.

Another possible reason for the decline in population may be an over-harvesting of female caribou.

“As internet correspondence had indicated, customers had offered higher payment for fat caribou, which during the winter and spring seasons are predominately pregnant females,” a GN information sheet said.

Kovic said he doesn’t know when the NWMB will reach a decision on the GN’s recommended harvest figures.

“We’re going to be talking about it again this coming week,” he said. He would not speculate on whether the Southampton Island herd would ever recover.

“I cannot respond to that because of lack of knowledge,” he said.

The NWMB held public consultations in Iqaluit this past December to gauge public opinion the Southampton TAH, after holding pre-consultations in Coral Harbour.

Kivalliq elders, and members of HTOs and regional wildlife boards attended the December meeting, Kovic said.

The NWMB is now encouraging members of the public to send in their opinions on the subject. People have until March 31 to make submissions to the Iqaluit NWMB office by fax (888-421-9832) or by email to receptionist@nwmb.com.

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