Makvik urges compliance, other groups oppose DFO

Nunavik hunters resist 2008 beluga quotas

By JANE GEORGE

Nunavik's beluga hunting season hasn't even started yet, but the region's hunters are already up in arms over this year's quotas and the threat of legal action against those who may exceed them.

The current beluga management regime constitutes a "form of genocide," declared delegates to the recent annual general meeting of Nunavik's co-operative association, the Fédération des cooperatives du Nouveau-Québec, in an April 3 resolution.

The uproar results from cuts to this year's quota for Hudson Strait, which will cut by 26, from 121 to 94.

DFO officials, through the Lumaaq co-management committee, imposed those cuts after hunters in the Hudson Strait exceeded their quota last year by 45 animals.

The quota reduction will be staggered over two years, with the 2009 hunt in the Hudson Strait cut by 19 belugas.

The 2008 beluga management plan warns that more cuts will be imposed in 2009 if there is over-hunting this year in Hudson Strait.

The communities of Salluit, which killed 33 belugas last year, Puvirnituq, Kuujjuaq, Kangirsuk and Akulivik will each see their Hudson Strait beluga quotas cut in 2008.

Salluit will be able to hunt only eight belugas in Hudson Strait, Kuujjuaq nine, Puvirnituq and Kangirsuk six each, and Akulivik five.

The cuts will hit Salluit the hardest because the community has no additional beluga quota for the Eastern Hudson Bay and Ungava Bay areas.

This past Wednesday, DFO officials planned to share this news in a conference call with the regional hunters and trappers committee and regional wildlife management officials.

But information about the cuts to beluga quotas has already circulated in Nunavik.

Two weeks ago, at Makivik Corp.'s annual general meeting in Quaqtaq, Johnny Peters, the vice-president responsible for renewable resources, was already urging Nunavik hunters to comply with the new quota plan.

Peters delivered a rousing appeal to Inuit traditions, saying that in the past when Inuit were told not to do something they obeyed even unwritten laws.

"The way of life that is lived in our society is wrong. There is no obedience in this region today," said Peter, speaking through an interpreter.

Peters criticized young hunters who kill belugas for the fatty maktak and waste the meat, or, worse yet, trade the maktak for drugs.

"We are destroying out lives and our livelihood," Peters said. "There's a reason the quotas are imposed. I need your support."

But Nunavik's hunters and trappers association showed little support for the new beluga management plan.

"The rights of Inuit are at stake," said Paulusie Novalinga, the president of the hunters and trappers association, told delegates at the Makivik general meeting.

Novalinga conjured up an image of a hungry hunter who goes out to find food for his family and who now faces possible fines or imprisonment.

The FCNQ also condemned the beluga management plan. As well as calling it "genocide," the FCNQ said the increasing threats about the consequences of over-hunting constitute "a form of terrorism."

The April 3 resolution links the lack of maktak and other country foods to the increasing risks that hunters take while going out of the land. It notes how six hunters from Ivujivik nearly perished last month when their snowmobiles fell through the ice.

The resolution also asks for charges to be dropped against hunters who are alleged to have over-hunted beluga or violated any other measures in Nunavik's beluga management plan.

Makivik will pay for the legal defence of three hunters who face charges under the Fisheries Act.

But Makivik's president, Pita Aatami, said at the AGM that the corporation would not pay for any other hunters who are charged with violations.

Michel Tremblay, the DFO's regional aboriginal fisheries director, admits that the 2008 beluga management plan was not entirely accepted by Lumaq, the regional beluga management committee for Nunavik, when it met earlier this year.

Hunters near Inukjuak wanted to take their entire quota of 14 in Eastern Hudson Bay, while others wanted to hunt outside of the open season in Ungava Bay.

But these requests were turned down because Tremblay said science shows that the number of belugas in these two areas cannot support more hunting.

Tremblay said the DFO already made a concession by agreeing to re-open the Eastern Hudson Bay and Ungava Bay to beluga hunting again, a move they way will delay the recovery of the beluga stocks.

The Canadian Committee on the Status of Endangered Species rates the Ungava Bay belugas as "endangered" or near extinction and Nunavik's eastern Hudson Bay beluga stock as "threatened" – which means their numbers may decrease even further if hunting is not controlled.

"We are looking for good faith. We hope that Inuit respect the quotas. Otherwise next year it will be harder to live with the consequences," Tremblay said.

A new beluga management plan, likely to be negotiated by the new wildlife management board to be set up under the Nunavut offshore agreement, will be created next year.

As for the legal cases, Tremblay says the fate of those charged is out of DFO's hands. The three hunters, whose names were not immediately available, will appear in court this fall in Kuujjuaq.

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