Outfitter says action will kill his sport-hunting business and hurt community income

Europe bans bear imports from two regions


The European Union's new ban on polar bear imports from Baffin Bay and Kane Basin will kill Titus Allooloo's outfitting business in Pond Inlet and deprive Nunavut of much-needed income.

Since "nothing is importable to the United States anymore, the only thing we had left was the Europeans," Allooloo said.

Last year, he and two other outfitters operating out of Pond Inlet, took about a dozen European sport hunters out for polar bear.

Clyde River probably had a similar number and Qikiqtarjuaq somewhat less, Allooloo suggested.

But the EU export ban won't make a difference in the number of bears killed, he added.

Local hunters will still harvest bears up to the quota limits, but the communities and the territory as a whole will not benefit from the extra income the sport hunters would have brought.

Henk Eggenk, a policy officer with the EU's environment directorate, told Nunatsiaq News the EU will no longer issue import permits for polar bears taken from Baffin Bay or Kane Basin, two of Nunavut's 12 polar bear management regions.

The EU's Scientific Research Group made the decision at a Dec. 2 meeting in Brussels, Belgium, after listening to Canadian polar bear managers and reviewing the scientific data.

Eggenk said the group recognized that Canadian polar bear management "is quite successful," and did not ban imports from the other 11 management regions in Canada (only one Canadian polar bear population, South Beaufort, lies outside Nunavut).

But partly because both Baffin Bay and Kane Basin share bear harvesting between Nunavut and Greenland, and because Canada and Greenland have no management agreement on the polar bear harvest, he said, "it was impossible for us to confirm a non-detrimental finding."

Greenland recently voluntarily stopped bear exports from the entire island.

The EU review group believes the joint harvest quotas for Baffin Bay of 105 bears from Nunavut and 68 from Greenland is too high for that polar bear population, which Nunavut scientific managers estimate has already dropped from 2,200 bears in 1997 when the last survey was done, to 1,500.

GN scientists plug known and estimated birth and death rates into computer models, to extrapolate on the 1997 data and come up with the 1,500 figure.

But like almost all Inuit hunters, Allooloo is convinced the bear population in the Baffin Bay region is healthy and growing.

He said that in all the hunting trips he took last year, "the least number of bears we saw in one day was about eight. The most we saw in one day was 18."

"When we were kids growing up in Pond Inlet, it was unusual to even see tracks," he said. "Now we can see them anywhere."

Allooloo also operates canoe and kayak trips from his business based in Yellowknife, but said outfitting and guiding sport hunters for polar bear out of Pond Inlet is about 75 per cent of his business.

Each sport hunter spends between $40,000 and $50,000 total for a bear hunt, including airfare, hotels, taxidermy, he said, most of it spent in Nunavut.

As an outfitter, Allooloo charges between $22,000 and $27,000 for the actual hunt, and three-quarters of that goes directly to the community for wages, fuel and food from the local store, he said.

Eggenk said the review group recognized that polar bear management in Nunavut, as stipulated in the land claims agreement, is supposed to balance both scientific data and Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (traditional knowledge.)

He said the EU scientists "reflected on all the information available, including scientific reports and what the Inuit report."

As signatories to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the EU is committed not to trade in wild animals or plants unless the review group can be convinced such trade will not damage sustainability.

While hesitant to speculate about the reason for the difference between the scientific projections and Inuit direct observations, Nuna­vut's director of wildlife management, Drikus Gissing, did note that populations northwest and south of Baffin Bay – Lancaster Sound and Davis Strait – "seem to be doing well."

The Davis Strait bear population was recently revised up from 1,500 to 2,200, after a recent survey was completed, Gissing said.

Bears from those two areas could be moving into the Baffin Bay region, he admitted, something Inuit have long claimed.

But "that is wild speculation," he cautioned. It needs to be confirmed by another "mark-recapture" survey, which involves darting and collaring bears and tracking their movements.

"It's extremely expensive and takes three years," he said. And many Inuit say it harms the bears and the drugs injected make the meat inedible for up to a year.

Gissing said the GN is experimenting with other less expensive and less intrusive methods of surveying the bears, including aerial surveys and genetic tracking, but at the moment, the mark-recapture method is still the best proven method available.

Based in Pond Inlet, Gissing chairs Canada's Polar Bear Administrative Committee, which includes federal, territorial and provincial representatives from all jurisdictions with polar bear populations.

He also attended the European meeting.

Working out a polar-bear-management agreement between Canada and Greenland will definitely become a priority, Gissing told Nunatsiaq News.

While the agreement would be state to state, which means the federal government would do the negotiating, Gissing said, Inuit organizations and the GN will both play major roles in any agreement.

Eggenk said the EU review group meets four times a year, and is always willing to reconsider its decision when it receives new information.

Meanwhile, federal Environment Minister Jim Prentice said he is convening a national round table on the polar bear in Winnipeg Jan. 16.

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