Protected status, data shortage cited for decades-long Ungava Bay beluga hunt ban

Department of Fisheries and Oceans says it’s collaborating with communities to fill research gaps

The Nunavik Hunting, Fishing and Trapping Organization opened a research camp along Marralik Estuary during the summers of 2021 and 2022 where it observed beluga behaviour and collected samples for DNA analysis. (Photo courtesy of Nunavik Hunting, Fishing and Trapping Organization)

By Jeff Pelletier - Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

A lack of data and an endangered species status are the reasons a ban on beluga whale hunting in Ungava Bay remains in place, according to the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

However, the department says it is working with communities to build a foundation of knowledge that could, possibly, see the ban reconsidered.

In 1986, the DFO banned beluga hunting in Marralik Estuary, also known as Mucalic Estuary.

That area, located between Kuujjuaq and Kangiqsualujjuaq, is a traditional beluga hunting ground, said James May, president of the Nunavik Hunting, Fishing and Trapping Organization.

May’s organization, also referred to as RNUK, is gathering a mix of scientific and traditional Inuit knowledge to convince Fisheries and Oceans to overturn the ban.

According to May, the federal department did not consult with Inuit before closing the estuary to beluga hunting.

He said the population of belugas in the region fluctuates yearly due to a variety of environmental factors such as food abundance and water temperatures.

The Marralik beluga population is classified as endangered by the federal Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, and currently there is not enough data to change that, said DFO spokesperson Kariane Charron, in response to emailed questions from Nunatsiaq News.

However, Charron said, the department is supporting regional and local efforts to fill that knowledge gap.

“The RNUK and DFO signed a Memorandum of Understanding in October 2021 to ensure more transparency in the transmission of results concerning data collected from belugas hunted in the Marralik River,” she said.

Charron added that Inuit knowledge plays a major role in decisions made by Fisheries and Oceans, and the department is always open to more collaboration.

“DFO’s goal is to further integrate Inuit knowledge into research and to contribute to capacity development in Inuit communities,” Charron said.

“For example, DFO has provided training to Inuit marine mammal observers who will be actively participating in collection and entry of aerial survey data, as well as collecting environmental data and hunt samples.”


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(14) Comments:

  1. Posted by Confused on

    There are thousands of beluga whales in Hudson bay, no need to ban harvesting anywhere.

    • Posted by John K on

      Citation? Showing your work should make it cut and dry.

      • Posted by Karl Popper on

        A good part of the problem here, undoubtedly, is bureaucratic inertia.

        When a DFO spokesperson says “Inuit knowledge plays a major role in decisions made by Fisheries and Oceans” frankly, I don’t believe them.

        Above John K asks for a citation. Which is to say let’s see the work / research that establishes the claim that there are plenty of Beluga.

        We’ve arrived at the key point in this discussion: what counts as reliable data?

        A fundamental feature of the scientific method is openness to scrutiny. Science relies on a community of practitioners that comb through each other’s work asking questions and looking for flaws. Good data, good ideas (accurate information, we hope) survive this process.

        Do practitioners of traditional knowledge use a similar this method? Are they open to applying it? Are they, or will they be, transparent about the methods they use to obtain data? Are they willing to revise data that does not hold up to criticism?

        As I see it, any confluence between Science and Traditional knowledge needs to address this point.

        Maybe it already does? It is hard to tell. Ultimately, we need more robust information, perhaps better conversations, around what both science and traditional knowledge are. Most of the stories we read in this publication address the issue very superficially. That’s unfortunate for all of us.

  2. Posted by Chesley on

    Observation towers can be used to scan farther out to sea, it would be a huge benefit for the group. It’s the same idea that fire towers are used to scan the horizon for smoke.

  3. Posted by Anne Marie on

    Good job RNUK !

  4. Posted by Decolonize the data on

    Observation towers, citations, ‘scientific data.’ Aren’t these the ways of the colonizers?

    • Posted by John K on

      It would certainly explain their better quality of life.

      • Posted by Eskimo Knife on

        Quality of life? Mmmm…. More like, restriction overload.👀

        • Posted by Quality time on

          How are you enjoying your time on the internet today, Eskimo Knife?

    • Posted by Hay on

      Making the lack of proper housing obsolete is a better quality of life. If southerners went back home, the first nations would have more better jobs and more better housing for the next generation.

      • Posted by Education? on

        Really? Who built the houses? Did you go to school for years to earn how to be a doctor? Could you manage the electricity needs, or would you let the city go dark again?

        If you’d rather live in the dark and cold, I’m sure there’s tones of uninhabited acres of land around. If you’d rather benefit from Canada’s diverse nationalities instead of being a Racist yourself, please stick around, we’re trying to learn to work together.

      • Posted by Testify on

        If southerners went back home your society would collapse. That is a fact.

  5. Posted by Tim Minchin on

    The talk of “traditional knowledge” and “colonial science” has me thinking of the slam poetry song Storm.

    “Do you know what they call alternative medicine that works? They call it Medicine!”

  6. Posted by tired of the B*llshit on

    the racism and blaming is disgusting. this country needs more hard working, educated individuals to help make this country successful globally. shitting around blaming everyone else for what people make of their own life doesnt help anybody nor make them happy. make life what you want! you want to be successful get a profession, contribute to the economy. canada doesnt need dead beats milking the welfare system it needs people that are proud, hard working and want to make something of their life. theres no place for racisim in canada in the north or the south, east or west. we should be trying to work together as canadians for the better for canada to succeed so we all can benefit, however it is

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