Agents, mayor square off as &#39ca;rcasses; cut up

Bad blood remains as beluga hunt ends


Johnny Oovaut wasn't happy to see the fisheries agents arrive in a helicopter on the beach in Quaqtaq as he was cutting up his beluga on Nov. 8.

The agents wanted to know if Oovaut would take samples of the beluga, according to the management plan.

But Oovaut said he told the agents they could do this themselves.

Oovaut said he didn't even want to talk to the agents and encouraged others watching on the beach to do the same.

"That's how they incriminate us – through our words. Even though we hadn't done anything wrong," he said.

Each family in Quaqtaq received a small piece of the beluga, and Oovaut was able to give the tender tailpiece to the women in the community, as dictated by tradition.

"They really enjoyed it," he said.

For Oovaut, that's where his "little protest" ended, with the sharing of maktak.

But afterwards stories about the behaviour of beluga hunters and the agents from the federal department of fisheries flew around Nunavik, as the beluga hunt in the Hudson Strait ended with a bang.

Oovaut, the mayor of Quaqtaq and an outspoken critic of the beluga management plan, was rumoured to be facing charges under the Fisheries Act for continuing to hunt beluga after his community's quota had been reached. The rumour was incorrect.

Although he doesn't support the beluga management plan due to its impact on Inuit culture and the local food supply, Oovaut would rather see changes in the beluga management come around politically than through confrontation or breaking regulations.

DFO agents were accused of confiscating beluga maktak.

"We never seized beluga in the North," said Danielle Baillargeon, the DFO's aboriginal fisheries coordinator "It's not true. There is an investigation under way, but that's all."

This much is certain: the beluga hunt in the Hudson Strait off Nunavik closed Nov. 13, with a stern warning to Nunavik hunters from the federal department of fisheries to stop hunting there and in the Nastapoka, Mucalic and Little Whale River estuaries of the Ungava and Hudson bays.

The DFO closed the beluga hunt after hunters from Kuujjuaq and Kangiqsualujjuaq topped off their community quotas with beluga from the Hudson Strait. Their hunt also meant that the total quota of 94 for the Hudson Strait was reached.

In fact, hunters may have exceeded the Hudson Strait quota by one whale, says the DFO.

An investigation is also underway to see whether one of the belugas recently hunted in Quaqtaq was a grey calf, says the DFO.

Under the 2008 beluga management plan, hunters are not supposed to hunt young, grey belugas.

For his part, Oovaut is sure that the beluga that he landed on Nov. 8 was a mature beluga, which was not illegally hunted.

This beluga was one that the hunters in Kangiqsualujjuaq took out from their community quota to thank Quaqtaq for allowing them to hunt beluga, Oovaut said.

This was the first beluga that Oovaut had killed this year. Last spring, as he sat waiting for belugas with his 81-year-old father on the floe edge, he learned that Quaqtaq's community quota had been filled.

"We were so happy, waiting for the beluga to come. Then I felt so powerless, so defeated," Oovaut said.

A quota for five belugas from the Hudson Strait starts in December, the DFO said.

But if more belugas are killed in the Hudson Strait before December, the quota for this new winter hunt will be reduced, the DFO said.

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