Boat owner confused by Iqaluit HTA boat-ban

Says Article 21 of the land claim guarantees public access on navigable rivers


An Iqaluit resident who runs boat tours on the Sylvia Grinnell River for two or three weeks every summer says he’s mystified about why the Iqaluit hunters and trappers organization is attempting to ban boat traffic from the river.

Last week, the Amarok Hunters and Trappers Association voted to ban net-fishing by members in the area above the falls, but to allow members to use nets below the falls.

Their motion, which will be forwarded to the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board for review, also says that all boats, including kayaks and motorized vessels, would be banned from the river.
Glenn Williams, who uses his flat-bottomed jet-boat to take groups of tourists on five- to six-hour runs up the river when the water is high during the early weeks of summer, says Article 21 of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement allows public access to any navigable rivers and lakes in Nunavut.

And since the Coast Guard considers the Sylvia Grinnell to be a navigable river, the Iqaluit HTA can’t block boat traffic on it, Williams says.

“The Canadian Coast Guard called me to say they consider the Sylvia Grinnell River to be a navigable water, and so is free to public access under Article 21,” Williams said.

He wouldn’t say whether he’s decided to put his boat into the water this season.

But he said he’s confused by news reports that suggest the Amarok Hunters and Trappers Association has banned boats from the Sylvia Grinnell River.

No one from the Amarok HTA, or any other organization, has told him that he can’t operate his boat on the river, and no one from the HTA has told him that they have concerns about his boat, Williams said.

He said that he’s been trying since last summer to talk to the HTA about rumours he’s heard about people who say that his jet-boat disturbs fish.

But he says the HTA has never responded to questions that he asked them last summer, and this spring.

He also says that there’s no evidence to suggest his boat has any effect on fish, and that DFO officials have told him they have no concerns about it.

However, he’s waited an extra week this year for the fish to run down the river into the sea, and that right now, there are few fish left to be disturbed.

“Its my opinion that most of the fish are now down in the ocean, and the remainder of the fish are in upper parts of the river that I’m not going to go to.”

Williams says that he’s “a very big supporter of this river,” and welcomes a chance to participate in its restoration.

“I see parts of this river that other people don’t get to see. It’s pristine. It’s dynamic, and it’s just an incredible wilderness area. I would very much like to work on seeing this river come back to the way it used to be and I think it can be done in a variety of ways of co-operating and working together,” Williams said.

But he said that’s difficult for him to do right now.

“My concern is that there isn’t an appropriate forum for the community to reach consensus. I’ve been waiting for DFO or the Canadian Coast Guard to hold a public meeting where the community, not just Inuit organizations, would have an opportunity to look for ways of resolving this.”

He says that instead of punishing boat-owners, the HTA could be looking at ways of speeding up the recovery of fish stocks, such as the habitat creation and the use of a fish hatchery similar to the one used in Kuujjuaq.

“But nobody’s interested in talking about it,” Williams said. “The only solution they have seems to be to ban user-access to the river.”

Williams suggested that it’s been difficult for anyone to communicate these kinds of ideas to HTA members.

“At the last meeting that I did attend, members of the HTO asked the HTO why they allowed Qallunaat at HTO meetings…. Consequently, at the next meeting they had, it was for members only. So I don’t feel welcome….”

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