April 3, 2009
Wildlife board looks at expanded walrus hunt
Big game stalkers seek “Arctic grand slam”
Outfitters from three Nunavut communities want to start or increase their walrus sports hunts this year.
At its meeting last week in Iqaluit, the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board considered submissions from outfitters in Pangnirtung, Hall Beach and Coral Harbour who want to take sports hunters out to shoot walruses.
Pangnirtung's hunters and trappers organization wants a sports hunt for 10 walrus this year.
Hall Beach's HTO wants a sports hunt for 10 walrus, and Coral Harbour's outfitters, Patterk Netser, Aaron Emikowt and Luke Eetuk, want a sports hunt for a total of 22 walrus.
Non-Inuit sports hunters are ready to pay about $7,000 US (nearly $10,000 Canadian), plus flights and accommodation to bag a walrus.
Big game hunters who successfully hunt a walrus can complete what they call an "Arctic grand slam" - that is, shooting a caribou, musk ox, polar bear and walrus.
Or they can try to hunt every one of the 32 trophy mammals found on the North American continent.
Walrus sports hunters usually give the walrus meat back to the communities. But sometimes they don't have much more than a photo to bring back home.
That's because if sports hunters are from the United States, they can't take the animal's tusks, skull and penis bones back with them. Their country's Marine Mammal Protection Act bans the importation of any walrus trophies.
But this doesn't stop some sports hunters from spending a lot of money on a walrus hunt, which one travel writer from the New York Times called "a long boat ride to shoot a very large beanbag chair."
Inuit may hunt up to four walrus a year each unless a quota covers their community. But to operate a walrus sports hunt they need a licence.
The NWMB sends its recommendations on all proposed walrus sports hunt plans back to the HTOs. When there's a community quota, as is the case in Coral Harbour, the sports hunt comes directly out of the quota, but the NWMB still makes its recommendations.
In documents distributed at last week's NWMB, staff said they need more statistics from past walrus hunts and information for this year's plans to recommend a walrus sports hunt for Pangnirtung, which has no quota.
A representative from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans told the wildlife board that the DFO is worried that the planned walrus sports hunt would use up two-thirds of Pangnirtung's average subsistence walrus hunt of 15 a year.
In contrast, Hall Beach hunters take about 73 walrus a year, so its proposed sports hunt of 10 would only be a small proportion of its average annual hunt.
Some delegates at the NWMB meeting also raised concern about the walrus sports hunt proposed by outfitters in Coral Harbour.
The community, which has a quota of 60 walrus per year, usually hunts only about 11 of those. So its 2009 sports hunt of 24 would increase Coral Harbour's normal average harvest.
Until 1994, only Inuit were allowed to hunt walrus in the Canadian Arctic.
Between 1995 and 2001, non-Nunavut sports hunters in the Foxe Basin and Davis Strait took about 10 a year. In 2004, Inuit took 93 walrus and non-Inuit sports hunters only 10.
NWMB board member Peter Awa of Igloolik said he was worried about the effect of an expanded walrus sports hunt on the subsistence hunt, noting that walrus move from their traditional uglit when they're disturbed by noise - something scientific research has confirmed.
Hunting, noise disturbance, commercial fishing, eco-tourism, and other industrial activities are among the top human threats to walrus.
Concern over the effects of sports hunting and walrus watching by eco-tourists led Igloolik's HTO to place a two-year ban on any activities that could disrupt walrus in 2007.
A 2006 evaluation of walrus by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife found walrus had moved a step closer to extinction and ranked them "of special concern."
About 2,000 walrus are thought to belong to the Baffin Bay-High Arctic population, which Canada and Greenland share - much less than there were 100 years ago.
The average annual hunt of animals from this stock from 1996-2001 was 124 - 12 in Canada, and 110 in Greenland.
This level of harvest, says COSEWIC, is not sustainable because walrus only calve every three years.
But some say Greenland is actually hunting from 300 to 600 walrus a year, a function of a growing hunger for the animal's coveted ivory rather than for meat.
There are about 6,000 walrus in the Northern Hudson Bay-Davis Strait and another 5,500 in the Foxe Basin.
Climate change may also make walrus more vulnerable to decline. Higher ocean temperatures and less ice mean there is less of the food and cold water that walrus prefer.
Warmer conditions may also increase hunting pressure because walrus haul out in more concentrated areas and in more predictable places, where they are easier to kill.
To better regulate the walrus sports hunt, the NWMB may do a review of rules guiding the walrus hunt - something the wildlife management board hasn't done in 10 years - or set trophy fees to discourage all but the most serious sports hunters from going after walrus.
The NWMB is also likely to become stricter on reporting all walrus hunted, struck or lost, because, as one speaker told the NWMB, Nunavut's walrus hunt may face more scrutiny in the future.