GN, NWMB slash polar bear quota in M’Clintock Channel

Kitikmeot hunters unhappy with drastic reduction in polar bear quota.



Kitikmeot hunters are killing too many bears, say both the American and Nunavut governments.

A study showing plummeting polar bear counts around the Kitikmeot region’s M’Clintock Channel has prompted the Nunavut government to force hunters to ease up on the animals.

It also caused the United States last week to ban the importation of bear hides from that area.

Polar bears in the M’Clintock Channel region — located east of Victoria Island in the north-central Kitikmeot — are hunted by residents of Cambridge Bay, Gjoa Haven and Taloyoak. They are taken for local use and as part of lucrative guided sport-hunts.

On Jan. 16 Olayuk Akesuk, Nunavut’s minister of sustainable development, acted on a recommendation from the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board and cut the annual quota from 32 bears down to 12.

Next year the hunt will be prohibited entirely.

Whether the hunting moratorium will continue into the future will depend on further data gathered both by scientists and Inuit hunters, said Ben Kovic, chair of the wildlife management board.

Population near collapse?

Without the drastic hunting reduction, wildlife officials worry the M’Clintock bear population could collapse completely.

Serious concern over harvest levels in the area began last year, when a three-year study by the Department of Sustainable Development indicated that the channel’s bear population, previously thought to be near 700, was actually less than half that.

According to the study, there are only an estimated 288 bears in the region. At the present harvest levels the bears would be wiped out in a decade. Even with no hunting, their recovery will be slow, the study indicates.

“The population is showing classic signs of what it would look like if it were depleted under hunting pressure,” said Steven Atkinson, the director of wildlife with the Department of Sustainable Development.

“The population is in trouble in M’Clintock Channel.”

The study prompted the U.S. government to take action. Under the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act, bear skins may only be imported from areas of Canada that have healthy bear populations.

But many hunters in the affected communities say there are plenty of polar bears around M’Clintock Channel.

Hunters disagree with research

Abel Aqqaq, head of the Taloyoak Hunter’s and Trapper’s Organization, doubts the validity of the department’s findings. The study, he said, “has not been done in a very proper way.”

“We see a lot of bears out in the M’Clintock Channel area. We know the numbers are still fair for hunting,” he said.

Two weeks ago, at the Kitikmeot Hunter’s and Trapper’s Organization meeting in Pelly Bay, delegates voted against voluntarily imposing a quota on themselves.

The organization initially didn’t disagree that conservation is needed. In talks with the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board in December they agreed that 12 is a reasonable quota for the 2001 season.

The ban on importing M’Clintock bear hides, announced by the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife on Jan. 10, will be a severe blow to the sport hunting business, Aqqaq said.

In Taloyoak, around two-thirds of the polar-bear quota goes to sport hunters, almost all of whom are Americans. In exchange for a chance to shoot a bear, each U.S. hunter pays between $15,000 to $20,000.

The money provides the guides with a substantial part of their annual income, and boosts the economies of their communities.

But if U.S. sports hunters can’t bring back bearskin rugs from the M’Clintock Channel, they’ll likely just go hunting elsewhere, Aqqaq said. There are five other polar bear populations in Nunavut from which the U.S. government permits the importing of hides.

In a press conference Jan. 16, Olayuk Akesuk said he will visit Cambridge Bay, Gjoa Haven and Taloyoak to discuss economic alternatives to the beleaguered bear-hunting industry.

“That’s why I’m travelling to these communities, to check to see how see how we can help the communities or the hunters,” he said.

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