Inuit do not hunt solely for international commercial trade, but they do benefit from it. Hunting is not a hobby or a luxury; for many it is a necessity. Inuit have relied on species like caribou, ringed seal, and polar bear as sources of sustenance for millennia. Even in today’s revenue-based economy, people still depend on hunting as an essential, relatively low cost alternative to store-bought items, and a much-needed source of revenue.
In addition to subsistence hunting, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories also have some guided hunts. The revenue generated through annual guided hunts in Nunavut before polar bears were listed in 2008 under the United States Endangered Species Act was about $1.5 - $2 million. As the annual number of sport hunts has continued to decrease, so too has the revenue. Today, roughly $700,000 is derived from polar bear sport hunts in Nunavut. The average sport hunter spends $25,000 to $30,000 on a polar bear hunt. The income derived from the hunt is divided amongst the Inuit guide who leads the hunt and his team, the owner of the dog team which is used for the hunt, and the individual who cleans the hide. It is important to note that a bear killed during a guided hunt is removed from the quota and the meat is distributed within the community.
This income, or the income generated from selling a polar bear hide, is often reinvested into hunting equipment and supplies, such as gas, snowmobile repairs, and a host of other necessities that enable Inuit to continue their subsistence hunting. The cost of a single sport-hunt can help finance a Nunavut family’s yearly expenses, including food, clothing and utilities. Thus, while polar bears are essential to the social and cultural fabric of Nunavut communities, they also represent an indispensable source of income in an area of Canada where there are few lasting economic alternatives.
Eliminating the market for sport hunts and trade in polar bear hides would effectively remove revenue from an area of Canada that needs it the most – but it will not change the way polar bears are managed, and will not change the number of bears that are harvested by Inuit.