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.
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 guided hunts has continued to decrease, so too has the revenue. Today, roughly $700,000 is derived from polar bear guided 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.
In addition to the economic benefit, guided hunting in the NWT provides some conservation benefits, in part because once a community designates one of its polar bear tags for a guided hunt and a local outfitter has booked a hunt, this tag cannot be re-used. Tags designated for subsistence hunters can be re-used until a polar bear is harvested. Guided hunters are typically looking for larger polar bears with less colouration in their fur and can be very particular about what animals they take. This commonly leads to tags not being used because the hunter does not shoot a bear. This has led to the harvesting quotas being regularly under filled.
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 guided-hunt can help finance Inuit families 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 guided 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.