Makivik: Nunavik hunters must kill fewer beluga

President of Anguvigak Hunters and Trappers Association says beluga quotas not respected


TASIUJAQ — Makivik Corporation leaders say Nunavik hunters must reduce the number of belugas they kill every year, or risk losing their right to hunt them.

Paulusi Novalinga, the president of Nunavik’s Anguvigak Hunters and Trappers Association, told delegates at last week’s Makivik Corporation annual general assembly that he’s frustrated that Nunavik’s beluga management plan, with its higher quotas, was approved and then not respected.

Nunavik’s current beluga management plan, reached last spring, increased the region’s total allowable beluga harvest from 290 to 360 animals. But Nunavik hunters killed at least 395 animals.

These harvest levels could lead to the extinction of beluga around Nunavik within 15 years, biologists from the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans warn.

Many delegates at the Makivik meeting in Tasiujaq agreed that Nunavik hunters had ignored the plan.

“There are some hunters who have absolutely no intention of respecting the quotas,” said Robbie Tookalak of Umiujaq.

Makivik president Pita Aatami urged Nunavik hunters to take the beluga quotas more seriously.

At the same time, Aatami said it’s not fair to point the finger at Nunavimmiut for the depleted beluga stocks.

“Yes, we do hunt a lot of whales, but the numbers are nowhere in comparison to what has been done in the past,” Aatami said, referring to the slaughter of belugas by the Hudson Bay Company during the 1800s.

Aatami also said pollutants released by industry into the water are causing harm to Nunavik’s beluga population.

Elder George Koneak of Kuujjuaq said hunters from his community still take belugas from the Ungava Bay’s Mucalic River sanctuary, which is supposed to be totally off-limits to beluga hunting.

“There are still people who go there,” Koneak said. “They can’t pretend not to see a beluga.”

Koneak said no one in Kuujjuaq asks them where their delicious muktuk comes from.

But Koneak said Nunavimmiut must take action so hunters don’t lose their right to hunt or end up getting arrested.

Silas Berthe, of Tasiujaq, agreed that Nunavik hunters should scale back the hunt because there are too many of them, and too few whales to go around.

“I know we’d like to catch all we could, but it’s not possible,” Berthe said. “We can argue we used to get a lot because the Inuit population was low. But we caught some then and probably thought we caught a lot.”

DFO officials now say the beluga quota should be cut by at least 75 per cent.

“If we want to rebuild the stock, we must reduce the harvest to 50 animals. If we want to maintain [the stock], then the quota can be 100, and all belugas must be taken from the Hudson Strait,” said Michel Tremblay, DFO’s aboriginal fisheries advisor in Quebec City.

Tremblay said if hunters still want to take belugas from Eastern Hudson Bay, the quota should be 20 whales — for all of Nunavik.

That’s because genetic tests show that one out of five belugas killed in the Hudson Strait actually come from Eastern Hudson Bay, and, with the decreasing numbers of belugas on that coast, the DFO doesn’t want to see more than 20 of its belugas killed in a season.

Earlier this month in Kuujjuaq, Tremblay met with representatives from the Kativik Regional Government, Makivik Corporation and the Nunavik’s Anguvigak Hunters and Trappers Association to present the DFO’s position to them.

Pita Aatami and Makivik’s vice-president for renewable resources, Johnny Peters, said they would like to see compensation given to hunters in the form of a subsidy if they can’t hunt belugas.

But the DFO doesn’t have any program that could cover the delivery of such subsidies, Tremblay said.

Tremblay said DFO is waiting to hear from Nunavik officials by the end of the month on how to put a beluga management plan back on track before this year’s beluga season starts.

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