Ottawa green-lights Nunavik’s new beluga harvest plan

“I believe that this is a step in the right direction”

“We’re trying to get around the migration routes of the Eastern Hudson Bay stock and focus more on the Western Hudson Bay whales,” said Nunavik wildlife official Tommy Palliser of the region’s new beluga management plan. (File photo)

By Sarah Rogers

The federal government has approved Nunavik’s new five-year beluga management plan, which comes into effect on Feb. 1.

The plan spells out how beluga whales can be harvested throughout the region. It aims to maintain the eastern Hudson Bay beluga stock at around 3,400 whales — which is the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ current population estimate.

The beluga subspecies is designated as endangered by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.

The region’s most recent management plan expired at the end of 2019.

In 2020, the Nunavik Marine Region Wildlife Board proposed a shift from a mainly quota-based system to non-quota limitations, an approach aimed at giving Inuit more say in how they conduct their harvest.

Under the newly approved plan, the board will encourage hunters to pursue the healthier western Hudson Bay beluga stock.

Tommy Palliser, the board’s executive director, welcomed the new plan, noting it shows a willingness on the part of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to consider Inuit knowledge in the management of Nunavik’s wildlife harvest.

“I believe that this is a step in the right direction and will work better in the long-run, since we all have the same interests: to sustain the eastern stock for future generations to harvest from,” he said.

The only area where the federal department imposed a quota is in a region it refers to as the Hudson Bay Arc, which straddles the communities of Inukjuak, Umiujaq and Kuujjuaraapik. Nunavimmiut now have an annual harvest of 20 belugas in that region, and any over-harvesting would be subtracted from the following year’s quota.

The rest of Nunavik would rely on non-quota limitations, including a seasonal closure in the Hudson Strait between September and November each year, when eastern Hudson Bay whales are migrating through that region.

Because the eastern Hudson Bay stock mixes with other belugas at different periods of the year, Palliser has said communities will be “abundantly cautious,” tracking and monitoring harvest levels to ensure they’re not putting them at risk.

Hunters will be required to report any beluga whales they harvest and provide samples of their harvest for ongoing monitoring, Palliser said, and the wildlife board hopes to offer training to local harvesting organizations to facilitate this.

Finally, Nunavik harvesters will once again have limited access to estuaries that have been closed to harvesting for decades: the Mucalic, Nastapoka and Little Whale estuaries. The wildlife board must make requests to Fisheries and Oceans to harvest in those areas.

The goal of that initiative is to pass on traditional knowledge to a younger generation of harvesters, Palliser said.

The federal department approved the new plan Nov. 26 for Nunavik as well as the James Bay Eeyou Marine Region.

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