Nunavik hunters hammer out beluga plan

Frustrated by DFO quotas, Nunavik whalers have come up with their own system for overseeing beluga stocks.


QUEBEC CITY — Hunters and trappers in Nunavik have come up with their own plan for managing beluga stocks.

At a meeting last week in Kuujjuaq, they asked officials from the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans to leave the room.

Then they developed their own proposal managing beluga stocks in the region.

The plan they hammered out doesn’t get rid of unpopular hunting quotas, but it does give Nunavimmiut across-the-board increases in the number of beluga they can kill.

Representatives from all of Nunavik’s communities were present at the meeting. Paulusi Novalinga, head of Nunavik’s Hunters and Trappers Association, said everyone agreed on the new quotas, even DFO officials.

“There’s no way they could impose stricter rules on our beluga harvest,” Novalinga said.

According to the new plan, Nunavik’s total beluga quota will rise to 370 animals, up from the current figure of 240. Because hunters have consistently gone over that quota in recent years, the new number is much closer to the real harvest tally.

This new quota, however, is much higher than the 250 figure the DFO wanted to see, due to scientists’ concerns over the diminishing number of beluga in the eastern Hudson Bay and Ungava Bay.

Under the new plan, each community in Nunavik will have a quota of 25 beluga.

The previous five-year beluga-management plan set a limit of 18 per community for the Eastern Hudson Bay from Kuujjuaraapik to Akulivik. The Ungava Bay communities from Kangiqsualujjuaq to Kangirsuk had a quota of 10 animals each.

“We feel 25 is fair now,” Novalinga said.

This figure reflects hunters’ belief that beluga stocks are still healthy along these coasts, despite results from a 1993 survey by DFO that found only 1,400 beluga in eastern Hudson Bay, and so few beluga in Ungava Bay that they could barely count them.

The Hudson Strait communities were previously the only ones with a quota of 25 beluga. The communities of Ivujivik, Salluit, Kangiqsualujjuaq and Quaqtaq will now be able to hunt an additional five animals each.

Novalinga said hunters have also agreed to keep close control over the harvest. They promised to avoid killing calves or females, to steer clear of sensitive river estuaries during the calving season, and to stay away from the Ungava Bay’s Mucalic Beluga Sanctuary.

They also agreed to actively support scientific sampling, which helps biologists see what population the animals belong to and estimate their numbers.

For their part, DFO officials promised to complete a beluga count in the Hudson and Ungava bays.

Novalinga said DFO’s proposal to have eastern Hudson Bay and Ungava Bay hunters travel to western Hudson Bay or James Bay to hunt beluga was unacceptable unless hunters receive money to pay for additional fuel.

He said hunters would never pay to travel to other regions when they believe beluga are numerous close to home.

“We are willing to travel to the ends of the Earth to practice our traditional rights,” Novalinga said. “But traditionally we’ve never been forced. We couldn’t accept it if they were to impose this on us.”

The proposal drawn up in Kuujjuaq must be forward to Fisheries Minister Herb Dahliwal for approval. Novalinga said he’s hopeful the final plan will be signed and sealed before the beginning of this year’s hunt in June.

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