Cuts to permits cripple Nunavik caribou sports hunt
Hunters, outfitters absorb blows as Quebec trims caribou sports hunt
KUUJJUAQ — Justin Ragazzine flew home from Nunavik last week with two caribou he shot and killed outside of Kuujjuaq.
The 34-year-old avid hunter from just outside Cleveland, Ohio started planning the trip last year — but he almost didn’t make it.
Although Ragazzine bought a hunting permit and trip through Nunavik outfitters Safari Nordik last winter, it wasn’t long after that when the Quebec government scaled back the number of caribou permits it hands out.
“I almost got screwed,” said the camouflage-clad hunter as he boarded a plane home.
Raggazine lost his spot with Safari Nordik, but managed to book one with Tunilik Adventures, another Kuujjuaq-based outfitter. He bagged two caribou at the peak of Nunavik’s fall hunt, which runs from mid-August til Oct. 7.
In April 2013, the Quebec government announced it was scaling back on the number of permits it allocated in the territory covered by the Leaf River herd, to help protect a herd it calls just barely stable.
While government surveys showed the Leaf River herd was decreasing, the most recent data suggests the herd is stable.
Quebec says its decision to scale back the sports hunt is a “precaution.”
But what does that mean for Nunavik’s $20 million outfitting industry?
For an outfitter like Safari Nordik, which typically receives about 600 permits a season, a lot: the outfitter received less than 100 permits this season.
“What’s too bad is that they announced it just after our winter marketing campaign, when we sold all of our trips,” said Martin Levac, general manager of Safari Nordik.
For the 2013-14 season, the Quebec government allocated just over 800 permits to hunt the Leaf River herd in the Nunavik region (the sports hunt of the George River herd is entirely closed until that herd’s number rebound).
Quebec also announced that it will cut back on the number of caribou each hunter can take — in 2014-15, hunters are permitted one caribou, rather than two.
But Levac said concerns about the Leaf River herd are unfounded. From what he has seen this year, he maintains the herd is in good health.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve seen this many females and their young,” Levac told Nunatsiaq News. “The sickness is really behind us.”
Caribou appear to have recovered from a parasite that afflicted many animals a few years ago.
Safari Nordik caters to mostly American hunters, some Canadians and the occasional Mexican or Spanish hunter, Levac said.
This year, the company could have at least sold 200 more permits.
And each of those permits would have brought in from $5,000 to $10,000 — the price a hunter pays for the overall hunting trip.
That represents a loss of about $1.4 million, Levac said, to both his company and the regional tourism industry.
Levac said he’s frustrated, mostly because the government made changes to the hunt without consulting the groups impacted by it.
“We’ve made a lot of efforts to set up a meeting with the minister,” Levac said. “They finally agreed to meet us at the end of September, but by then the season is done.”
The frustrations don’t spell the end of the caribou outfitting industry, Levac said.
“But we’ll keep at it,” he added. “I’ve been here for 15 years, because I love it.”
Faced with shrinking caribou herd populations and tougher government restrictions on caribou hunting, aboriginal organizations and governments in Quebec and Labrador set up a group earlier this year called the Ungava Peninsula Caribou Aboriginal Round Table.
The group will work to protect calving ground from exploration and development activities, as well as giving priority to the Aboriginal subsistence hunt.