The quota system was established in Canada’s northern territories in the 1970s. The international trade of polar bear takes place strictly within legal harvest quotas. Six of the seven applicable Canadian jurisdictions- Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Ontario, Québec and Newfoundland and Labrador- allow hunting of polar bears, with the majority of Canada’s polar bear harvest occurring in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories (only Manitoba does not allow polar bear hunting). Indigenous peoples in Canada have the right under their respective Land Claims Agreements to manage and harvest species located in their settlement areas. Present Indigenous harvest of polar bears in Canada is sustainable, with an overall mean annual harvest level of approximately 3.5% of the Canadian polar bear population. Indigenous people must possess a government issued hunting tag in order to harvest a bear. Once a polar bear is successfully harvested a tag must be attached to the hide and a suite of measurements and samples are collected from each animal (e.g. hide length, tissue samples, a tooth for aging, etc.) This ensures that the quota is respected and monitored, and affords the opportunity for various scientific studies. Furthermore, the tag system also provides data to ensure the legality of international trade.
Harvest quotas are based on principles of conservation and Indigenous subsistence needs. Meeting demands of other markets, whether international or domestic, is not a consideration when establishing quotas. Cubs, females with cubs, and bears found constructing or within dens (where the young are born) are generally protected from harvest.
All human-caused mortalities (subsistence harvest, sport hunt, accidental takes, illegal kills and those killed in defence of life and property) are subtracted from the total allowable harvest (TAH) for the current year in Nunavut, the Yukon, the Northwest Territories and in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Polar Bear Harvesting Facts:
- All bears harvested must have a tag. Hunter and Trapper Organizations (HTOs) in Nunavut and Hunters and Trappers committees (HTCs) in the ISR choose how much of their own polar bear harvesting quota allocate to either subsistence or sport hunters. In the ISR, a rule has been established that a maximum of 50% of available tags can be allocated for guided hunting.
- Guided hunting is highly regulated and only occurs in two jurisdictions: Nunavut and the Northwest Territories. Recreational hunters must be guided by Inuit hunters, harvests must be by dog team rather than snowmobiles, and polar bear meat stays in Inuit communities.
- Each guided hunt generates considerable revenue for local Inuit communities, and is very important, especially in communities where other economic opportunities are limited.