Move could cripple sports hunts in three Nunavut regions

CITES to ponder bans on bear trophy exports


Big game hunters who want to take polar bear hides and trophies out of Canada may soon be out of luck.

That's because a ban on exporting polar bear products from some areas in Nunavut is likely to result from the federal environment department's report to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

The ban would result from what's called a negative "non-detriment finding" on the export of polar bear trophies.

This negative finding on polar bears would mean that the trade in their hides and trophies is thought to harm the species' survival.

A positive finding would allow a continued export of polar bear hides and trophies.

A ban could effectively cripple the sports hunt for many non-Canadian hunters in three populations of polar bears in Nunavut, particularly in the Baffin Bay region, which has a quota of 105 polar bears, divided among Qikiqtarjuaq, Clyde River and Pond Inlet.

At the recent meeting of the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board in Iqaluit, the Canadian Wildlife Service told the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board that the options that it is considering include exports:

  • from all polar bear populations, with reduced harvests in Kane Basin and Baffin Bay;
  • from all polar bear populations with the exception of Kane Basin and Baffin Bay and;
  • from all polar bear populations with the exception of Kane Basin, Baffin Bay, Western Hudson Bay and Southern Beaufort Sea.

Scientists say bear numbers in Kane Basin, Baffin Bay, Western Hudson Bay and Southern Beaufort Sea are decreasing.

Last year, an interim ruling from the European Union allowed for the continued import into the European Union of polar bear hides and trophies from Canada, with the exception of those from bear populations in Kane Basin and Baffin Bay.

The numbers of these two populations remains uncertain due to a lack of research from Greenland.

The average annual harvest between 2002-2007 for the shared Baffin Bay harvest was 232 polar bears, although the estimated sustainable rate of harvest is about 90 polar bears, according to wildlife biologists.

Greenland, where there is no sports polar bear hunt, voluntarily adopted a ban on its polar bear exports in April, 2008, while it plans to study its polar bear populations.

CITES, the group behind the possible clamp-down on polar bear exports, was adopted in 1973 to ensure that international trade in wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.

Under CITES, Environment Canada is responsible for evaluating whether the export of a species from Canada will be detrimental or not to its survival in the wild.

Their report is not supposed to be subject to socio-economic considerations, CITES says.

The value of the sports polar bear hunt to Nunavut has been estimated at about $2.9 million each year. From that, hunters or local guides receive $1.5 million.

If Environment Canada doesn't make a positive recommendation on the impact of the polar bear hunt in certain areas of Nunavut, then Canada can't legally issue an export permit for the polar bear hides and trophies from those areas.

Restrictive CITES rulings already affect the trade of 800 species close to extinction, such as tigers, great apes, certain parrots, certain species of orchids and cacti, and some timber species.

Other species not considered to be under the same threat of extinction, as is the case with polar bears, may still become regulated through a licencing system to ensure that trade will not harm these wild populations.

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