CITES launches review of polar bear trade
Nunavut MP Leona Aglukkaq "confident that Canada’s position will be reaffirmed through this review process"
The federal government and even Canadian wildlife advocates hope a new review of the trade in polar bear parts will confirm that it does not pose a risk to the Arctic species.
A recent meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES, agreed to look at the global trade in polar bear skins and other parts.
The study will look at trade among the five polar bear range states, which include Canada, Alaska, Greenland, Norway and Russia.
But much of the onus will be on Canada, as the only country that permits commercial trade of the species.
“We are confident that Canada’s position will be reaffirmed through this review process,” said Nunavut MP and environment minister Leona Aglukkaq in a May 8 email to Nunatsiaq News.
“Canada has in place a strong management regime for the polar bear that is based on science and aboriginal traditional knowledge,” Aglukkaq said. “As an Inuk, I’m proud we have taken this principled and scientific approach that respects the values of northerners.”
At a meeting of CITES animal committee in Mexico last week, the review was formally proposed by the United Kingdom, and supported by Canada.
The review was opposed by the United States.
The CITES review “of significant trade,” a process that can take up to six years, evaluates whether trade of a given species is sustainable. A review of the polar bear trade had been discussed at previous meetings of the CITES animal committee.
For that reason, the launch of the study should come as no surprise, said Geoff York of the World Wildlife Fund Canada.
“It should help put the argument to rest [and determine] that international trade does not pose a risk to polar bears,” said York, a WWF polar bear expert. “I think this also shows that CITES works.”
A 2012 report published by WWF looked at current trade data, concluding that the legal international trade in polar bear parts does not appear to be a threat to the species.
“[The review] should definitely help resolve the long-standing debate about whether polar bears are well-positioned in appendix II of CITES,” added York, referring to a classification that means the bears are subject to trade and management controls to ensure the species does not become threatened.
Past proposals to classify the bears in appendix I of the convention would have made it illegal to transport their parts across international borders, effectively killing Canada’s polar bear sport hunting industry.
York hopes the review can also clarify reports that suggest a recent spike in the number of polar bear parts being traded.
“What it turned out to be was a spike in the samples being used in the scientific community,” he said. “There’s actually been an increase in internal scientific collaboration and research efforts.”
“Trade is actually dropping if you look at the specific data.”
From 2007 to 2011, Canada exported an average 313 polar bears annually. That accounts for roughly two percent of Canada’s polar bear population, which Environment Canada has pegged at about 16,000 bears.
The primary destination for Canadian polar bear skins is China — that country took 75 per cent of exports in 2013 — followed by European countries.
The Canadian population of polar bears is managed through 13 management units spread across the species’ range in Canada, four of which are co-managed with other countries.
Export of legally harvested bears is permitted from all management units except the Baffin Bay management unit, co-managed by Nunavut and Greenland.