July 20th, 2016. Beluga hunters in Nunavik are in the final stretch of the region’s latest three-year beluga management plan, which expires in January 2017.
So far, the plan, which launched in 2014, has allocated about 90 per cent of its total allowable take — that’s 143.7 of 162 whales.
And the region’s wildlife board believes the plan has achieved what it set out to do, and that’s to give hunters more flexibility in where and when they hunt.
“I think it’s a significant improvement to plans that have previously been in place,” said Kaitlin Breton-Honeyman, acting executive director of the Nunavik Marine Region Wildlife Board.
“The [total allowable take] is defined, but how they want to use that is at their discretion.”
Breton-Honeyman said the plan has given an increased role to the regional hunters association, Nunavimmi Umajulirijiit Katujjiqatigiinningit (RNUK), in determining the allocation.
While Nunavik’s beluga hunting season used to run from April to November, the new system introduced in 2014 left the eastern Hudson Bay, the Hudson Strait and Ungava Bay open to hunting beluga through until Jan. 31, 2017.
The plan is focused on protecting the eastern Hudson Bay stock of beluga whales, considered endangered under the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.
And under the three-year plan, any belugas hunted outside that area are counted against the eastern Hudson Bay quota, now set at 162, although at different rates.
In the Hudson Strait, for example, Fisheries and Oceans Canada noted that eastern Hudson Bay beluga whales make up about 10 to 20 per cent of the mixed beluga population that passes through.
So each beluga whale caught outside that areas is considered one-tenth or one-fifth of a beluga whale, depending on the season, which explains how the current harvest sits at 143.7.
Previous management plans had required Hudson Bay and Ungava Bay communities to harvest most of their quota in the Hudson Strait, but the travel and costs involved made the hunt less accessible.
Under the current plan, communities along the Hudson coast have hunted more beluga closer to home, Breton-Honeyman said, noting the same is true for Ungava Bay communities.
“And that has huge implications for food security and cultural transmission benefits,” she said. “I think that ability for communities to use [their quota] when it works for them is really positive.”
As an example, hunters in Akulivik decided to push their allocation to the fall, after a major search and rescue effort earlier this summer drained much of the community’s resources.
If any quota isn’t used, it’s automatically carried forward to the fall season.
That’s when different stakeholder groups will sit down to discuss if and how to tweak the plan ahead of its renewal in 2017.
The NMRWB will host the regional Nunavimmi Umajulirijiit Katujjiqatigiinningit, Makivik Corp. and the federal department of Fisheries and Oceans in September to decide how to move forward.
Nunatsiaq News was unable to reach RNUK and Makivik Corp. for a comment on the new management plan.
The NMRWB hopes to receive a proposal by November in order to have time to put it to a public hearing and final decision before the end of 2016.
A Kuujjuaraapik-based pilot project was set to inform the region’s next management plan, by allowing local hunters to harvest James Bay area beluga whales in the first half of the year.
The goal of the project was to help identify which beluga stock those migrating whales belonged to.
But with only eight belugas harvested under the project in 2015, and none in 2016, the results of that research aren’t yet conclusive.