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Wildlife organizations would oversee community hunts

NTI demands unrestricted Nunavut bowhead hunt

By JANE GEORGE

Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. wants to do away with limits on the Nunavut bowhead whale hunt.

But will Nunavut face a nasty international backlash from anti-whaling nations if its hunters take more bowhead whales a year?

And, if there are no restrictions on Nunavut's bowhead whale harvest, will its hunts turn into disorganized free-for-alls and open the doors to non-Inuit bowhead whale hunters?

That's fear-mongering, says NTI.

NTI defended its demand for the removal of the total allowable harvest of bowhead whales at a public meeting of the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board Feb. 10 in Iqaluit.

If the TAH for bowhead whales is lifted, NTI says Nunavummiut will hunt three bowhead whales per year until 2012 in community hunts, carefully regulated by the regional wildlife organizations.

Armed with new information from DFO about increased numbers of bowhead whales, NTI successfully petitioned for an increase of the bowhead hunt to two in 2008.

With an estimated 14,400 bowhead whales in Nunavut waters, the continued limits on the bowhead hunt are now unjustified, NTI says.

And the political worries of Canada have nothing to do with the guaranteed rights of Nunavut Inuit to hunt, NTI's wildlife advisor, Glenn Williams, told the NWMB.

To imagine what a bowhead whale hunt without a TAH looks like, Williams pointed to Nunavik, which has no quota and held its first well-organized community whale hunt in Kangiqsujuaq last summer.

But Nunavummiut will have to wait up to two more months before they learn whether the current TAH for bowhead whales is lifted or replaced.

The DFO minister has until 60 days, that is until mid-April, before deciding whether to accept, reject or change the NWMB's recommendation.

If the TAH for bowhead whales isn't lifted, NTI may decide to take legal action, Williams said.

That's because a section of the Nunavut Land Claims agreement says a minister "shall restrict or limit Inuit harvesting only to the extent necessary."

And, in the case of bowhead whales, NTI argues that there is no longer any valid conservation, public safety or public health reason to limit the harvest when Nunavut's proposed hunt of three bowhead whales a year is much less than the DFO's estimated sustainable harvest of 18.

This number represents the maximum number of bowhead whales the DFO says can be removed every year by hunting, net entanglements, ship strikes, without hurting population numbers – although NTI says up to 90 bowhead whales could be hunted every year without affecting the health of the bowhead whale population.

But that's not how the DFO sees things.

The DFO told the NWMB any decision to lift TAH should be put off until its bowhead population analyses are announced in August, 2009.

"Until this time the bowhead population should still be considered as threatened," the DFO said.

Even though the self-regulated hunt NTI is proposing is below 18, the DFO says the numbers of bowhead whales are still uncertain and that the whales are still a species at risk.

The DFO wants the NWMB to set a "short-term allowable harvest for bowhead whales" for one or two years and "wait for finalized advice from DFO."

The DFO says this is "good wildlife management practice for a species designated by the Canadian Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada as ‘threatened.'"

And the DFO warns "sudden and dramatic" rise in Canadian bowhead whale hunt could provoke sanctions and draw "national and international attention to the hunt."

Canada would appear to be setting a precedent for allocation before any sharing arrangements have been developed between Canada and Greenland, DFO says.

Nunavik also wants to hunt one bowhead whale per year and Greenland plans to hunt one or two bowhead whales a year until 2012.

The bowhead whale hunt has been contentious ever since DFO admitted last year that instead of a few hundred bowhead whales in the Eastern Arctic there were actually thousands, an increase in numbers that Inuit hunters had observed for years.

The NWMB held a public hearing last March in Iqaluit to consider comments on a proposed increase in the Nunavut hunt and upped the bowhead whale hunt for 2008 by one whale.

NTI has already acquired hunting gear for three separate hunts in Nunavut in 2009.

Inuit elders at the NWMB said they would like to eat more maktak but also underlined the need for a better use and distribution of the maktak.

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