Sanikiluaq hunters can’t get international exports for polar bear hides: MLA

Federal environment minister says his department trying to balance protection of at-risk species against sustainable harvest

Environment and Climate Change Canada Minister Steven Guilbeault makes an announcement on caribou protection in Iqaluit Thursday. (Photo by David Venn)

By David Venn
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The federal government is working with Inuit organizations and the Government of Nunavut on a solution to manage export permits for southern Hudson Bay polar bear hides, says Canada’s environment minister.

The Canadian government needs to balance the legal obligations of protecting at-risk species with the sustainable harvesting of polar bears, said Environment and Climate Change Canada Minister Steven Guilbeault.

“We understand at the same time that the reality in Nunavut on polar bear[s] is a more complex reality than it would be elsewhere in the country for species at-risk,” he said Thursday at a news conference in Iqaluit.

“So we are working with the government and different Inuit associations to try and find a solution to that.”

The comments followed a back-and-forth in Nunavut’s legislature Monday regarding international export permits of polar bear hides.

Hudson Bay MLA Daniel Qavvik asked David Akeeagok, who was environment minister until a cabinet shuffle on Wednesday, if he was aware that applicants couldn’t receive federal export permits for polar bear hides sourced in southern Hudson Bay.

“The harvest has important economic and cultural benefits for my constituents,” Qavvik said of his community, Sanikiluaq.

Akeeagok responded, saying the Environment Department learned about it in February. He called it an “arbitrary decision not to export the beautiful polar bear skins from Sanikiluaq.

“It is not acceptable they ban the export.”

Akeeagok declined to be interviewed because he’s no longer the environment minister.

Joanna Quassa, who this week picked up the environment portfolio, also declined comment, saying she needed time to look over the file.

The international trade of polar bears in Canada is guided by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES treaty.

There was no recent decision to stop issuing export permits for polar bears of the south Hudson Bay region, wrote Environment and Climate Change Canada spokesperson Samuel Lafontaine in an email to Nunatsiaq News.

Instead, the federal government is holding all applications because a sub-department of ECCC doesn’t know if international trade is harmful to the survival of polar bears, he said.

The department is reviewing “further information” to figure out international trade’s effect, and then will decide whether or not to start issuing permits again.

Lafontaine said four export permit requests for southern Hudson Bay polar bears came through during the 2020-21 harvesting season. Those applicants were told to come back at a later date.

The government issued 109 total export permits for polar bear hides for that season.

All other sub-populations of polar bears can have their hides exported, he said.

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