Nunavik’s beluga harvest is open, but a new plan won’t come until 2021
“It’s never going to be perfect, but it’s inching towards that”
Nunavik’s springtime beluga whale harvest is officially underway, but a new management plan won’t come until next year.
On May 15, the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans signed off on an interim measure, extending the most recent plan—which ended in January—until a new plan is approved, which could take until 2021.
The following areas around Nunavik are now open for harvesting: Eastern Hudson Bay, North Eastern Hudson Bay, Ottawa Islands, Hudson Strait, Ungava Bay, Long Island and James Bay.
Under Nunavik’s 2017-20 beluga management plan, the region could harvest the equivalent of about 200 beluga whales from the eastern Hudson Bay stock—a population that was at the time considered endangered but has since stabilized.
Under a complex formula, any beluga hunted outside the area was counted against that subspecies, but at a different rate.
Although harvesters are anxious for a new plan—one that gives Inuit more say—Tommy Palliser, the Nunavik Marine Region Wildlife Board’s executive director, said the goal now is just to ensure that Nunavik Inuit can get out hunting.
“We were hoping that the interim measure would be at least what we have now; we weren’t even sure if DFO would get back to us in time,” Palliser said, noting potential administrative delays due to COVID-19.
“It’s springtime now—beluga whales are passing by and Inuit are ready to harvest,” he said. “We’re just happy these interim measures are in place to make sure we’re not harvesting outside of the management plan.”
Ice breakup has already begun along the Hudson coast, which in mid-May is earlier than typically seen in the region. Strong winds have pushed ice south, creating patches of open water along the bay.
Belugas have already been spotted north of Inukjuak, Palliser said, where the whales begin to migrate to their summering grounds.
The NMRWB intends to submit its proposed management plan this week, to which the DFO has 60 days to respond. Palliser didn’t reveal details about the new plan but called it “progressive.”
The plan is meant to reflect feedback the organization gathered at January 2020 hearings, where Makivik Corp. and some other groups said they wanted to see the DFO’s quota-focused plan scrapped in favour of an Inuit-managed system.
For its part, the DFO wants the current system to continue for another two years, to serve as a transition period to whatever new system is developed.
“It’s a delicate balance between DFO’s science and Inuit traditional knowledge,” Palliser said. “We’re trying to make sure we walk that fine line to satisfy both sides. It’s never going to be perfect, but it’s inching towards that.”
In years past, each Nunavik community has communicated its beluga harvest needs through its local hunters’ organization, or Nunavimmi Umajulirijiit Katujiqatigiinninga.
In drafting a new plan, the NMRWB works with DFO on setting a total allowable take (TAT).
The Regional Nunavimmi Umajulirijiit Katujiqatigiinninga (RNUK) then allocates those quotas to the communities.
The RNUK’s spring allocations, by community, are listed in the document below.