The majority of Canada’s polar bear harvest occurs in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories where Aboriginal people must possess a government issued hunting tag in order to harvest a bear. Northern Aboriginal peoples in Canada have the right under the Land Claims Agreements to manage and harvest species located in settlement areas. Present Aboriginal harvests of polar bears in Canada are sustainable with an overall mean annual harvest level of approximately 3.5% of the Canadian polar bear population. The tag must be attached to the polar bear hide upon harvest, and a suite of information is collected on each animal that is harvested. This ensures that the quota is respected and monitored, and affords the opportunity for various scientific studies. Furthermore, the tag system also provides the data to ensure the legality of international trade.
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. Harvest quotas are based on principles of conservation and Aboriginal 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.
Polar Bear Harvesting Facts:
- 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.
- All bears harvested must have a tag. Hunter and Trapper Organizations (HTOs) in Nunavut choose to allocate their polar bear harvest tags to either subsistence or sport hunters
- Sport hunting is highly regulated and only occurs in two jurisdictions: Nunavut and the Northwest Territories. Sport hunters must be guided by Inuit hunters, harvests must be conducted by dog team rather than snowmobiles, and all polar bear meat stays in Inuit communities.
- Each sport hunt in Nunavut generates considerable revenue for local Inuit communities, and is very important, especially in communities where other economic opportunities are limited.