Nunavik’s beluga harvest season closes as quota reached

Regional marine wildlife board waiting to hear from DFO on proposed new management plan

Beluga whales swim in the Hudson Strait not far from the Nunavik community of Quaqtaq, where Johnny Oovaut took this photo of a pod using a drone. (Photo by Johnny Oovaut)

By Sarah Rogers

Nunavik’s beluga harvest has closed for the season.

The federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans said the total allowable take, or quota, for the Nunavik Marine Region was reached as of July 29.

This year’s was one of the shorter beluga harvesting seasons. The DFO opened the season on May 15, signing off on an interim measure to extend the region’s most recent beluga management plan—which ended in January—to hold the region over until a new plan is approved.

That new plan could be approved as soon as the fall, but is expected to be finalized by early 2021.

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 has been counted against that subspecies, but at a different rate.

Nunavik’s regional hunters association, Nunavimmi Umajulirijiit Katujjiqatigiinninga (RNUK), allocated quotas to each of Nunavik’s 14 communities earlier this year, based on local input, for a total of 259 whales.

Inukjuak, Umiujaq and Kuujjuaraapik have additional opportunities to harvest beluga at Long Island, a zone just south of the Nunavik region in James Bay, which remains open at this time.

The Mucalic Estuary, Nastapoka Estuary and Little Whale River estuary remain closed to harvesting at all times.

The Nunavik Marine Region Wildlife Board submitted what it called a “progressive” proposal for a new management plan at the end of May.

The plan is meant to reflect feedback the organization gathered at January 2020 hearings, where Makivik Corp. and 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,” said NMRWB’s Executive Director Tommy Palliser earlier this year.

“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.”

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