Nunavik outfitters still hurting

Sports hunting falls on hard times, despite partial lifting of U.S. beef ban



The U.S. ban on Canadian beef that spilled over and infected the export of Nunavik caribou meat may have been lifted Aug. 8, but at least one outfitter says it may be years before the province’s hunting industry recovers.

The U.S. Agriculture Secretary, Ann Veneman, announced two weeks ago that the department would allow some “low-risk” ruminant, or hoofed, animal products to enter the United States.

But though Bernard Domingue, director of logistics for Safari Nordik, northern Quebec’s largest outfitter, applauded the decision, he said it may take several years for the industry to truly recover.

“My assumption is the whole industry has been shaken and we’re going to need a couple of good years of real peace and quiet for things to get back to normal and for confidence to return,” he said.

The U.S. imposed a ban on all Canadian beef products after a single Alberta cow tested positive for BSE, or mad cow disease, on May 20.

But because of what some outfitters called a “bureaucratic oversight” the ban also made it illegal for American hunters to import the meat of ruminant animals such as wild caribou, elk, deer and moose.

As a result, U.S. hunters, balking at the idea of returning home without their game, began canceling in droves and the cancellations threatened to ruin Nunavik’s 2003 caribou season only weeks before its Aug. 1 start date.

Veneman’s decision however means hunters can bring ruminant meat back into the U.S. as long as they have a special permit. The ban on live adult cattle remains in place.

Yet despite Veneman’s announcement, Domingue said, Safari Nordik has not recovered any of the 50 to 60 hunters who cancelled because of the beef ban.

And though these numbers only represent about five per cent of Safari Nordik’s business, they are worrisome to Domingue.

“I think it’s [the ban] scared them [U.S. travelers]. I think it’s going to leave an aftertaste in people’s mouths and make them a bit wearier about traveling to Canada to hunt,” he said.

For Domingue, the ban is only the tip of a mountain of negative events including Toronto’s SARS scare and terrorist attacks. These incidents have affected travelers’ confidence, he said, causing less people to travel abroad and in turn raising the cost of the already expensive flights to Nunavik.

And all this, he said, means a cloudy future for Nunavik’s outfitters.

The Federation of Quebec Outfitters however believes Veneman’s announcement should limit the impact of the ban on this year’s business.

“We can only be happy with this news,” said Dominic Dugré, legal adviser with the federation. “We worked very hard, since the ban’s announcement, on this file. We were talking about the loss of millions of dollars and the lifting of this ban after only one week from the start of hunting season is good news indeed.”

The federation had originally estimated individual companies would lose between 15 to 40 per cent of their clients.

But Dugré said U.S. customers who had put their hunting plans on stand-by are rebooking their packages. He now estimates a maximum province-wide loss of 10 per cent.

The federation will continue to monitor the situation. In particular, the federation wants to ensure U.S. custom officials respect the special permits.

Dugré also said the federation may work in the future with other provincial outfitting groups to ensure any future case of BSE does not lead to another ban on Canadian caribou or other wild ruminants.

Such an assurance, Domingue said, would certainly go a long way to increasing U.S. hunters’ confidence.

“You know scientists on both sides of the border agreed that there was no connection [between wild caribou and farmed cows]. In theory if Quebec had been a different country it would not have a part of the ban,” Domingue said. “It’s going to be a great thing if scientists on both sides can sit down and decide what really should be affected by such a ban in the future.”

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