Whale sanctuary plan flounders

Negotiations for an Inuit Impact and Benefits Agreement drag on as the Canadian Wildlife Service searches for funds to monitor a unique population of bowhead whales near Clyde River


Nunatsiaq News

IQALUIT — After more than a decade, Canada and the community of Clyde River have inched closer to establishing a marine mammal sanctuary off the north Baffin coast, but just barely.

Environmentalists and the Canadian Wildlife Service this week both bemoaned the glacial pace at which the country’s protected-areas strategy in the new territory is unfolding.

“We’ve got an area here that’s clearly biologically important,” Josh Laughren, marine conservation coordinator with World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Canada said. “It’s supported by the community, supported by the regional government in principle, supported by the federal government. We’ve got no threats there at the moment, no users that will have to be displaced; there’s no economic cost to putting this thing in terms of stopping development. And we still can’t get it done.

“I think it points to a real failure in our national system of getting these things done.”

Rich feeding ground

The conservation group has been a key supporter of the proposed sanctuary in Isabella Bay, or Igaliqtuuq as it is known in Inuktitut. The bay is a rich feeding ground for as many as 100 bowhead whales during the late summer months, and there is evidence that the animals who come here constitute a separate breeding population.

Protecting the coastal region from future development is the main rationale behind the proposed sanctuary, but the community of Clyde River has identified potential economic benefits, too.

Unfortunately, negotiations between the Canadian Wildlife Service, the Qikiktani Inuit Association and the Clyde-River based Igaliqtuuq Steering Committee have been sporadic and infrequent, and have yet to produce an Inuit Impact and Benefits Agreement (IIBA), which the Land Claim Agreement requires before the sanctuary can be established.

“We’re trying to do everything we can at this stage to make it move as quickly as possible,” said Bob McLean, a spokesman with the Canadian Wildlife Service in Ottawa, “but even then it does take time to put together the documents necessary to obtain the funding and build the support for that initiative within the government departments.”

McLean said the frustration is shared by everyone who has been involved in the project, but he is reluctant to lay blame for the slowfooting of current negotiations.

“It’s no one person’s fault, but I will be very candid with you that we certainly would have preferred the file to move more quickly than it has.”

Patrick Palluq, coordinator for the Igaliqtuuq Steering Committee, the designated Inuit organization responsible for representing local interests, said his group is holding out for an IIBA that includes annual funding for both whale research and a local ecotourism industry.

Tourism potential

Palluq estimates it would cost $60,000 a year to monitor the animals in Igaliqtuuq, and he’s seeking another $30-$50,000 a year to set up a whale watching business in the community of Clyde River..

The Canadian Wildlife Service, meanwhile, says it is trying to get a financial commitment from the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs, and possibly the Deparment of Fisheries and Oceans, before proceeding with formal IIBA talks.

Meanwhile, the Qikiqtani Inuit Associaion intends to carry out separate negotiations with the Canadian Wildlife Service for a leasing agreement.

Disagreement between the QIA and the Igaliqtuuq Steering Committee over the distribution of financial compensation from Ottawa has been a further obstacle.

“QIA told us that if we are going to try to receive some of the lease payments then we should be putting that into the IIBA,” Palluq said.

One thing seems certain: the Igaliqtuuq marine mammal sanctuary won’t be in place by Canada’s annual Parks Day, July 18.

Negotiators aren’t expected to get back to the bargaining table again until next September.

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