Beef ban wounds Nunavik caribou season

Outfitters frustrated



As Nunavik outfitters set their scopes on the 2003 caribou season, many say a U.S. ban on Canadian beef has forced their American customers to run from Northern hunting grounds.

On May 21, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued a ban on all Canadian beef imports because a single cow from an Alberta farm tested positive for Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) or mad cow disease.

BSE is a degenerative disease that affects a cow’s central nervous system. It was first diagnosed in Great Britain in 1986 and has since been linked to a similar neurological disease in people who ate beef infected with BSE.

The eight-week old U.S. ban, however, also affects the import of meat from all ruminant or cud-chewing, hoofed animals — including moose, deer, elk, muskox and caribou.

Nunavik and Quebec outfitters say they are already feeling the repercussions of the ban.

“We see only too clearly that there are cancellations. It’s very worrying. It’s still possible to save the season but it is getting very pressing,” said Philippe St. Pierre, communications agent with the Federation of Quebec Outfitters.

“We can say the cancellations have already begun — 40 per cent in some cases, 15 in others.”

American hunters make up the majority of Quebec, and Nunavik, outfitting clients, bringing in between $15 million and $20 million each year, St. Pierre said.

In Nunavik, according to the regional tourism association, there are about 20 outfitters that operate directly out of the region, offering hunting packages for the Great River and Leaf River caribou herds. Others base themselves in the southern town of Shefferville, Que., and then travel north to their outfitting camps.

In a region with small towns and few private businesses, the revenue from hunting these herds plays a vital economic role.

Safari Nordik is Nunavik’s largest outfitting business, commanding about 60 per cent of the region’s sport-hunting business. Its director of logistics, Bernard Domingue, said the ban is definitely having an impact.

“I must have lost in all 50 or 60 hunters. So that’s about five per cent of my customers this year that decided not to book,” Domingue said.

With each package valued at approximately US$4,000 this translates to a loss of US$200,000 to US$240,000.

Safari Nordik, however, may be luckier than many smaller outfitters because a strict pre-payment policy will limit the effect of the ban on its business.

“For this year, it will have a minimal impact — meaning hunters who find out they can’t bring the meat [back to the U.S.] well that’s just too bad. We’re ready for the season so we’re not taking any cancellations and such,” Domingue said.

But Domingue is still frustrated with the lack of movement on the issue and the fact that the ban will is even affecting the 2003 caribou hunt.

Since the ban was first issued, Canadian officials have ordered the slaughter of about 3,000 cattle. None of the slaughtered animals have tested positive for the disease.

And Domingue said scientists have repeatedly assured him there is no chance of wild caribou becoming infected with BSE since they are not fed meal with animal by-products. BSE is not a contagious disease but occurs when cows eat feed that contains infected animal products.

“It’s just a political issue. Are civil servants going to be able to rewrite that stuff and present the final papers in time for the season to be completed? I don’t know. That doesn’t happen too quick,” he said.

Though he hopes the USDA will amend the ban before next year’s caribou season, Domingue said if the ban isn’t lifted by 2004, it would likely wipe out Nunavik’s outfitting business.

St. Pierre said the Federation of Quebec Outfitters is doing what it can to have the ban lifted before the caribou season begins.

But it is doing it without much support from some politicians, he said.

“I know the member of parliament in Nunavik, [Guy] St-Julien, is offering us a lot of support. He’s trying to help us with all possible means. He’s very appreciated. But the actions of other politicians have left us feeling a little abandoned. We feel alone in our battle.”

As of Nunatsiaq News press-time, the USDA will only allow hunters to return with finished, or free of meat, trophies and hides. It has not yet made an exception for ruminant meat imports, he said.

But such scraps offer little attraction to avid sportsmen, Domingue said.

“Ninety-five per cent of my hunters have strong ethics,” he said. ” They don’t want to shoot something they are not going to bring back and eat.”

Nunavik’s caribou season begins Aug. 1.

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