Makivik calls for Inuit-led beluga management
Organization for Nunavik Inuit wants to abandon quota-driven system
KUUJJUARAAPIK—Applause followed the Makivik Corp.’s call for Inuit-led management of beluga in waters off Nunavik on the first day of hearings on the issue here on Tuesday, Jan. 21.
“Several decades of beluga management by Canada has had only modest biological impacts, whereas the cultural and socio-economic impacts on Inuit have been devastating,” said Adamie Delisle Alaku, Makivik’s vice-president of environment, wildlife and research.
Over three days, nearly 100 attendees discussed how the endangered eastern Hudson Bay beluga should be managed in the future and who should be responsible for that management.
“Makivik believes that there has never been a better time to transfer responsibility over this resource to Inuit than the present,” Alaku said.
The beluga management system, based around capping the number of whales taken by hunters, is eroding the culture of Nunavik Inuit, he said. It’s also come with financial costs, for example the need to travel greater distances to hunt.
Alaku noted the Nunavik Marine Region Wildlife Board—which is hosting the hearing on beluga management—has made efforts to shift responsibilities to the hunters’ organizations, the Regional and Local Nunavimmi Umajulirijiit Katujiqatigininga (RNUK and LNUK), but those powers are limited to implementation and lack decision-making powers.
“This holds even though communities have essentially been repeating the same message to management authorities for several decades, namely: the quota system has eroded core Inuit values, prevented transmission of knowledge, negatively affected food security and pitted communities against one another,” Alaku said.
He gave the example of the latest harvesting closure in 2019, which prompted protests by hunters and their families and illegal hunting, as an example of the current sentiment toward the quota-based system.
On the other hand, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans argued that the current system has seen positive change in the population of the endangered eastern Hudson Bay stock. Aerial surveys have shown that since a 2004 estimate of 2,646 whales, the population grew to 3,351 in 2011, and 3,819 in 2015.
“The eastern Hudson Bay population has stabilized since the implementation of this system,” said Felix Dionne, aboriginal programs agent with DFO.
The federal department’s position is that the current system should continue for two more years, with minor tweaks such as including new population information. Dionne said this could be a transition period allowing for improved management practices and organization.
Mike Hammill, section head of marine mammals for the Laurentian Region with the DFO, said the federal government wants to see an approach that doesn’t just maintain but grows the population.
The current plan is a sustainable yield program, which means the total allowable take is set so that the likelihood of the herd declining is no more than 50 per cent probability. That also means that the chances of the population increasing is no more than 50 per cent either.
To get to a point of growing the population, Hammill said this would require reducing the total allowable take from 187 beluga to 58. The intent is to redirect hunting to focus on the populous western Hudson Bay beluga population.
“If there is a traditional approach that could be used rather than the figure I’m presenting here, that would be favourable,” Hammill said.
And that’s the solution Makivik seeks: an Inuit-led management approach that allows Nunavik Inuit to continue to hunt and feed their families.
Earlier in the day, Jimmy Johannes of Kuujjuaq posed the question: if someone from Nunavik goes hungry because they’re not allowed to harvest beluga, what do we do about that? “Should we keep them hungry?” he asked.
He said that it needs to be recognized how much Inuit know about conservation. “They know to take care of wildlife, they have that understanding,” he said.
Qiallak Nappaaluk, mayor of Kangirsujuaq, spoke to the cultural impact of harvest limits.
“I grew up before the quotas were implemented with beluga hunters,” said Nappaaluk, who was one of only a handful of women in the room.
“There is a different way of making fermented maaqtaq, and we don’t even get enough to make oil … there used to be fermented beluga skin in a pouch.”
Knowledge of the different ways of using beluga, she said, is being lost. It’s a reason she said women in particular need to be a part of this conversation, as the people who pass on that knowledge of how to use an animal.
It is Makivik’s mandate, she said, to protect the culture of Nunavik Inuit.
Last year, Makivik Corporation signed a memorandum of understanding with the federal government on its self-determination. And beluga management, Alaku said, is the ideal opportunity to move towards that goal of self-determination.
“I think a fundamental question in this is: who has the right to determine what an acceptable risk is? Nunavik Inuit are the ones that have the highest stake in beluga management, the outcomes are going to affect Nunavik Inuit and their children, grandchildren for generations,” said Gregor Gilbert, director of environment, wildlife and research with Makivik.
Makivik has proposed that beluga management, as well as wildlife and harvesting management in general, go back to Nunavik Inuit through the RNUK and LNUKs. They want to see this happen as soon as possible.
“Look at the damage that’s been done since quotas were instituted in 1985,” Gilbert said. “In this evolving landscape and the move towards recognition of Indigenous rights and reconciliation, who should be the determinants of beluga management when Nunavik Inuit are the ones that have the highest stake in it?”