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Nunavik hunters rejoice as beluga quota upped

Community leaders say Inuit values hurt by strict limits

By NUNATSIAQ NEWS

JANE GEORGE

KUUJJUAQ – Hunters in Nunavik, who finally convinced the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans that the waters of the Hudson Strait are teeming with belugas, will hunt nearly 60 more whales there in 2009.

“Hunters are a little bit happier than they were last year,” said Paulusie Novalinga, the president of Nunavik’s Anguivaq hunters and trappers association, speaking in an interview from his home in Purvirnituq.

Novalinga attributed the increase in the 2009 beluga quota to “years of sensible negotiations.”

Novalinga said he hopes the beluga hunt will now regain its traditional character.

Novalinga and other community leaders often said the strict limits on the annual beluga hunt damaged Inuit values of honesty and sharing.

They said the low quotas and tough surveillance encouraged hunters to break the law. Sometimes hunters didn’t report their excess kills, and occasionally they sold the beluga meat and muktuk instead of sharing them.

“We wouldn’t share them when there wasn’t enough,” Novalinga said.

The DFO should now drop its long-standing court actions against seven beluga hunters accused of over-hunting, Novalinga suggested.

Just how many belugas the Hudson Strait beluga population can support has been a source of continuing disagreement between Inuit and DFO biologists, Novalinga said.

“Now they agree the belugas are not endangered,” he said.

Biologists and hunters have always agreed that belugas from the Western Hudson Bay’s large beluga population migrate through the Hudson Strait.

But biologists argued that lower levels of hunting were needed because genetic sampling showed one in five belugas killed in the Hudson Strait came from the eastern Hudson Bay’s endangered population.

The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada rates Nunavik’s eastern Hudson Bay beluga stock as “threatened,” saying its numbers could decrease even further if hunting is not controlled.

On the other hand, hunters, who base their beluga population estimates on personal observations of the whale numbers, have said there is only one large beluga population coming through the Hudson Strait and that it can sustain a larger hunt.

The draft version of the 2009 beluga management plan shows Nunavik’s total quota stands at 224 for 2009, up from 174 belugas in 2008.

The increase results mainly from the higher quota for the Hudson Strait zone, which is up from 92 in 2008 to 150 in 2009.

Hunters in Nunavik’s larger communities of Inukjuak, Puvirnituq, Salluit and Kuujjuaq and those along the Hudson Strait will receive a larger share of the region’s total quota than those in the region’s smaller communities.

The increase in the 2009 quota numbers for the Hudson Strait is surprising because the DFO had threatened to cut this year’s quota due to alleged over-hunting in 2007.

The quota for Hudson Strait was cut from 121 to 94 in 2008 after DFO determined hunters in the Hudson Strait had exceeded their 2007 quota by 45 animals. The recovery of this over-hunting was to be staggered over two years, and the plan was to cut the 2009 hunt in the Hudson Strait by 19 belugas.

In addition to the quota of 150 for the Hudson Strait and 23 for the eastern Hudson Bay, hunters can also take nine belugas from Ungava Bay, where belugas are considered by COSEWIC as “endangered” or near extinction, and 42 more as part of a special pilot project in the Hudson Strait or from around the Ottawa, Salisbury or Nottingham islands and James Bay.

Measures in the 2009 beluga management plan still caution hunters that quotas for 2010 “could be adjusted” in the case of over-harvesting this year.

Before they go out to hunt, hunters need to develop their community hunting plans.

The plan’s measures also include a warning not to waste muktuk and meat.

This year marks the last time a beluga management plan will be negotiated by the Lumaaq beluga management committee. Next year, the new Nunavik Marine Regional Wildlife Board, established by the recently-ratified Nunavik Inuit Land Claims Agreement, will be responsible for recommending beluga quotas.

In addition to organizing its beluga hunt, Nunavik is also gearing up for a second bowhead whale hunt, which will take place this August in Kangiqsujuaq.

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