Canada: The 2013 Integrated Fisheries Harvesting Management Plan For Narwhal

Last Updated: October 18 2013
Article by Qajaq Robinson

Most Read Contributor in Canada, September 2016

In order to satisfy Canada's obligations under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species ("CITES"), Canada has been required to evaluate the health of the narwhal population in Canada's Arctic waters. The result of this endeavour has been the 2013 Integrated Fisheries Harvesting Management Plan for Narwhal ("IFMP"). As the only legal harvesters of narwhal in Canada, the sustainability of the Inuit narwhal hunt has been the central issue in the development of the IFMP.

In an announcement issued jointly on June 14, 2013, by the Honourable Keith Ashford, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, the Honourable Leona Aglukkaq, then Minister of Health and Canadian Northern Economic Development, and the Honourable Peter Kent, then Minister of Environment, the Government of Canada affirmed that hunting of narwhal and the sale of narwhal products on the world market by Nunavut Inuit would continue for the 2013 season.

In a landscape of complicated jurisdictional issues, further complicated by the constitutionally protected nature of the rights of Inuit to harvest, the rights Inuit have to be part of the wildlife management process, as well as the existence of overlapping Aboriginal rights, the domestic efforts to meet Canada's international obligations has been far from simple and straightforward. The 2013 IFMP, points to the ability and benefits of Governments working in partnership with Aboriginal rights holders to manage the resources (in this case narwhal) in a manner that benefits all those with an interest.

In order for Canada to comply with CITES, the existing management of the narwhal harvest, which has been managed by way of a quota system, as established under the Fisheries Acts and the Marine Mammal Regulations since 1996, changes were required in the following areas:

1. Managing narwhal by known summering areas, and taking into account harvests from mixed stock during annual migration;

2. Harmonizing the narwhal management further with the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement (NLCA); and

3. Implementing additional management measures to address management issues and strengthen co-management of the fishery, which include:

a. Effective sub-allocation of the harvest to individual communities;

b. Measures to close fisheries when harvest quotas are achieved;

c. Measures to monitor the number of narwhal landings;

d. Measures to improve tusk traceability; and

e. Measures to decrease the number of narwhal struck (wounded by fishermen) but lost (not landed).

In December, 2010, the Canadian Science and Advisory Secretariat ("CSAS") found that for some Management Units, the total allowable landed catch (TALC) numbers within the Unit were greatly exceeded by the actual catch numbers. Thereafter, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans' ("DFO's") CITES Scientific Authority, on advice of CSAS, stopped issuing a Non-Detriment Finding (NDF) for landed catches to most regions in Nunavut. Without an NDF, Article IV of CITES stipulates that export permits cannot be granted.

In January of 2011, Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated ("NTI") filed an application for the judicial review of the DFO decision to stop issuing NDF's for all narwhal stocks and populations in Nunavut, and essentially banning the export of narwhal, and in particular, their tusks.

In March 2011, the DFO, in conjunction with NTI and Nunavut Wildlife Management Board ("NWMB"), conducted a series of consultations with communities in Nunavut in March of 2011, to present the proposed management plan and receive feedback.

In June 2011, NTI and the DFO came to an alternative resolution to NTI's application for judicial review and agreed that pursuant to the NLCA the DFO would in the future act by consulting Inuit in decisions that impact them.

In August 2011, the DFO conducted a narwhal management workshop in Iqaluit where participants included representatives of NTI, NWMB, and other regional wildlife boards and organizations. The parties agreed to move forward with the proposed IFMP. Between August and March 2013 the parties were able to come to an agreement on a third draft of the IFMP.

In March of 2013, a Conference of the Parties to CITES was held in Thailand, at which the proposed IFMP for narwhal was presented. By June of this year, the DFO confirmed the IFMP for narwhal.

Although not without its criticisms, the IFMP represents one of the biggest tests to the co-management system of wildlife management as established under the NLCA. And for the parties involved it signifies a great accomplishment.

In January 2013, Vice President Eetoolook of the NTI expressed optimism in relation to the IFMP, saying "At times, the development of the plan was very difficult, but in the end, Inuit now have a management plan in place that we feel meets our needs and respects our harvesting rights."

In addition to the impact on Nunavut Inuit, the IFMP for narwhal has included, for the first time, provisions allowing for a narwhal harvest in the Nunavik Marine Region. A separate agreement between NTI and Nunavik, approved by the Minister of the DFO on May 9, 2013, gives the Nunavik communities of Ivujivik, Kangiqsujuaq, Quaqtaq, Salluit a shared quota of ten narwhal whales.

The process used to develop the IFMP for Narwhal brings to mind the words of the late Inuit elder and author, Mariano Aupilaarjuk:

"The wildlife up here cannot be treated like domestic animals. They were given to us for our use. At times caribou are very hard to come by and then all of a sudden there is an abundance of them. They are like plants, sometimes they are here and sometimes they are gone. If we are good managers, they are not going to disappear. If we don't manage them, there will be hardship. We have to constantly take care of each other and it is the same for wildlife. This is a strong maligaq [law] for Inuit. If we followed this we would be in a much better situation. If educated people included Inuit knowledge when making decisions, the management of wildlife would be much better, even long after we elders are dead."

As concerns over the health of Arctic animals gains attention on the world stage, the way Canada and Inuit have engaged in management of narwhal, within the mechanism afforded in the NLCA and with consideration to Inuit knowledge, paves the way for addressing concerns domestically and internationally.

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