New committee faces tough task

Wild food export row divides Nunavik


A new committee with members from the Quebec government and Nunavik faces a task worthy of King Solomon's resolution skills.

The committee's mandate will be to resolve a growing dispute around the personal export of country foods from Nunavik.

On one side, there's Makivik Corp., which maintains the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement gives Nunavimmiut the right to transport fish or game out of the region, not only for personal use, but to share with others.

On the other side is Quebec's wildlife protection service, which says the land claim's provisions only apply above the 49th parallel, within what the JBNQA calls "the Territory."

So, Quebec says Nunavimmiut should only give or trade fish and game within the region and then only with other beneficiaries of the land claim who live in Nunavik.

The dispute over the export of country foods has been brewing since last winter. That's when Quebec's wildlife protection office first warned residents of Nunavik who are non-beneficiaries against taking country foods out of the region.

"It doesn't make any difference if it's a gift, purchase or bartered item, the result is the same: you are breaking the law and may face a fine," cautioned the news release, which was posted throughout Nunavik in Inuttitut, French and English.

But the edict against exporting country food has also been applied to beneficiaries traveling with fish or game to Montreal because Quebec maintains Inuit have the right to transport fish and wildlife out of Nunavik for personal use only.

There have been increased checks on cargo in Kuujjuaq and Montreal and some confiscations, according to the Quebec wildlife protection office in Kuujjuaq.

Claude Bouchard, the head of the Kuujjuaq office, admitted there is a lot of misunderstanding about what Quebec is trying to do, which is to protect wildlife, according to its interpretation of the law.

But the debate has reached an impasse, Bouchard said, and will have to be resolved by high-level discussions within the future committee – and perhaps by an amendment to the JBNQA.

In Bouchard's opinion, Nunavimmiut don't realize that if they continue to give away food – even to their relatives in the South or non-residents in the North – someday soon they will lack wildlife.

For good Arctic char, people from Kuujjuaq must already travel to Kangirsuk or Kangiqsualujjuaq because local stocks are depleted, he said.

"The larger the population becomes, the more they will face this, but people don't see this yet."

Bouchard cites possible abuses that need to be controlled. These include a beneficiary who lives in Nunavik bringing or giving country food to non-beneficiary Inuit in Montreal, who then turn around and sell the food.

Wastage is liable to be another result of the uncontrolled export, he said.

Wastage already occurred in Montreal last year, he said, when many boxes of country foods sent via air cargo were never picked up and had to eventually be destroyed.

Quebec says non-beneficiaries may not bring country food out of Nunavik at all unless they have the proper permits to prove they caught it themselves.

Non-beneficiary fishers with permits can take out five fish. Non-beneficiary hunters with permits are allowed to take out the meat from two caribou.

Non-beneficiaries who break the rules for transporting fish with no permit may face fines from up to $100,000. For illegal transportation of meat, the fines start at round $1,800.

To try and encourage compliance with the law, Bouchard visited hotels this past summer. There, he explained to patrons that they are not supposed to travel out of Nunavik with any fish and wildlife unless they caught it themselves with a permit.

His office has also clamped down on the sale on country foods, for example, of ptarmigan in an Inukjuak grocery store, or of smoked Arctic char, prepared and packaged for sale in Puvirnituq, which had apparently been caught in Nunavut waters.

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