Economic woes taking toll on all-important revenue source

Outfitters fear slump in U.S. caribou hunters


Outfitters are bracing for a decline in sport hunters coming to Nunavik to hunt caribou, as a rocky economy south of the border combines with higher fuel costs and zig-zagging currency rates to keep Americans at home.

The $20-million caribou outfitting business is a mainstay of Nunavik's economy, pouring money into local stores and airlines from mid-August until the end of September.

In a good year, about 3,000 hunters come mainly from the United States to Nunavik for one-week hunting packages and the chance to bag two caribou each.

Caribou outfitters' business was up in 2007 after they finally began to make money six years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York's World Trade Centre made many U.S. residents wary of traveling.

But now a slumping U.S. economy appears to be keeping many hunters at home.

"And any time there's a presidential election, Americans tend to travel less," said Steve Ashton of the Arctic Adventures outfitting company, owned by Nunavik's Inuit-run co-operative network, the Fédération des cooperatives du Nouveau-Québec.

Rising fuel prices and variable exchange rates, which affect hunters and outfitters alike, also threaten to cut into the hunt.

Hunters, who pile into a pick-up truck with their guns and gear to drive to Montreal for their flights north, will pay at least 20 per cent more to fill up their tanks than they did in 2007.

Outfitters, who have already been affected by rising fuel prices, will be hit even harder next year as the full impact of fuel rate increases takes effect.

First Air, which flies hunters from Montreal to Kuujjuaq, has already added a fuel surcharge to its tickets of $10 per one-way trip. This fuel surcharge came into effect Aug. 11.

And most outfitters already added a surcharge to their 2008 caribou hunting packages to compensate for the currency fluctuations.

That's because most hunters pre-booked their 2008 caribou hunting packages in U.S. dollars. These one-week packages cost as much as $7,000 U.S. a year.

But when the U.S. dollar then fell in value against the Canadian dollar, outfitters who had charged their clients in U.S. dollars stood to lose up to 15 per cent.

Safari Nordik, Nunavik's largest outfitter and winner of Quebec's 2007 gold tourism award, charges its clients in U.S. dollars.

Safari Nordik did not add any surcharge to its 2008 caribou hunting packages, said general manager Martin Levac.

"We kept the same rates. Of course, it's sure to affect profits," Levac said.

Another change leading up to the caribou-hunting season in 2008 has been more positive for outfitters – the hot, dry weather in Nunavik.

The dry weather means caribou wander around less often because there are fewer mosquitoes to contend with, outfitters say.

For the moment, caribou are milling around Nunavik in great numbers. There are nearly one million caribou in the region – 400,000 in the George River herd and about 500,000 in the Leaf River herd.

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