Kangiqsujuaq in line for first Nunavik bowhead

NWMB ponders second bowhead for Nunavut


Hunters in a yet-to-be-chosen Nunavut community may look forward to hunting a second bowhead whale this summer.

That will happen if the federal minister of fisheries and oceans says yes to an expected recommendation from the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board to increase the Nunavut quota for 2008 from one to two bowhead whales.

Nunavik, too, may see an organized bowhead whale hunt for the first time in recent memory, once the Department of Fisheries and Oceans approves details of how the Nunavik hunt would be organized.

On March 6 in Iqaluit, the NWMB called a public hearing in Iqaluit to consider comments on how to handle new information from DFO that shows there are more bowhead whales in the Eastern Arctic than scientists previously claimed.

Until recently, DFO scientists claimed there were only several hundred bowhead whales in eastern Arctic waters.

But in 2007, they upped that estimate to 7,309. That number would justify an annual hunt of 10 bowhead whales: two for Greenland, one for Nunavik, two for Nunavut and between two and five to allow for other human-caused deaths, such as boat collisions or net entanglements.

Late last year, DFO upped that number to an even higher figure. They now estimate a population of about 14,400. That would allow an annual hunt of 18 to 90 bowhead.

This new figure may mean that bowhead whales are more numerous now than they were before the era of commercial whaling, when the population likely stood at around 12,000.

For Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., this means that the population could be healthy enough to justify the removal of bowhead whale quotas.

Glenn Williams, NTI's director of wildlife, told the wildlife board that either no limit should be placed on the Inuit bowhead hunt or, at the very least, the Nunavut quota should be increased to three a year for the next five years.

Williams pointed out that, according to the Nunavut land claims agreement, if Inuit needs are less than the maximum sustainable hunt, there should be no quota.

"The current TAH [total allowable harvest] levels assume that there are 345 bowhead whales… whereas recent research shows that the population is approximately 15 times the size of the previous estimate," Williams told the hearing.

Williams accused the DFO of dragging its feet on releasing the new bowhead numbers.

He also said DFO dragged its feet on using Inuit traditional knowledge from a bowhead study conducted in 2000, as well as newer scientific information from aerial surveys done in 2002 and 2004.

He suggested the DFO and the wildlife board have been more concerned about not irritating anti-whaling groups than about respecting the Nunavut land claim agreement, which says Inuit hunting rights may be restricted "only to the extent necessary" when there's a valid conservation reason.

In its written comments on increasing the bowhead hunt, the DFO admitted that "a sudden and dramatic rise in Canadian bowhead quota will draw unnecessary attention from the International Whaling Commission and may even provoke the United States to impose sanctions on Canada."

The NWMB's recommendation on increasing the bowhead hunt was not immediately made public, but a decision from the DFO minister is expected within 60 days.

Right now, Nunavut is allowed to hunt one bowhead whale every two years from the Hudson Bay-Foxe Basin area and one every 13 years from the Baffin Bay-Davis Strait area.

Any long-term change in bowhead hunting rules will wait until another public hearing, said the NWMB's chairman, Joe Tigullaraq.

This summer, hunters from Kugaaruk will take one bowhead whale, but the site of Nunavut's second proposed bowhead whale hunt for 2008 has yet to be chosen.

As for Nunavik, the community of Kangiqsuaq on Hudson Strait has been selected to manage the region's proposed bowhead hunt.

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