Warm weather, lack of ice likely factors in sluggish polar bear harvest: Nunatsiavut government

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This photo of a polar bear was taken just outside of Seal Islands, Labrador, by Nicholas Morris in 2018. (Submitted by Tristen Russell - image credit)
This photo of a polar bear was taken just outside of Seal Islands, Labrador, by Nicholas Morris in 2018. (Submitted by Tristen Russell - image credit)

Only five of 12 licences to harvest polar bears have been filled on the north coast of Labrador, and the Nunatsiavut government says weather and climate explain this year's drop.

Each year, licences to kill polar bears are allotted to Inuit hunters on Labrador's north coast via random selection.

For the past two years, the Newfoundland and Labrador government has allowed 12 licences to be handed out.

In 2020, 11 of those licences were filled before the June 30 deadline.

So far this season, only five animals have been killed.

The troubles with this year's sluggish hunt are just one detail among many about what's emerging to be an existential issue for Labrador's Inuit, who rely on sea ice for food, resources and survival.

"The ice conditions, the way they are now, it's getting kind of difficult for people to get around," said Todd Broomfield, the Nunatsiavut government's director of renewal resources.

"When it's difficult getting around, you can't normally get to your places where you would hunt polar bear, so that's having an impact this year."

Of the five polar bears killed, three were taken from Nain hunters and one each from Hopedale and Makkovik. The licences allotted to Rigolet and Postville have not yet been filled.

According to Broomfield, the bears visit the islands peppered along Labrador's north coast. However, a winter that has seen far less sea ice means travelling to the bears is difficult.

"It impacts your ability to get out to the outside islands where you would normally expect to see polar bear[s]," Broomfield said.

The hunt officially began in the mid-1980s with a quota of six bears for the area. In 2011 that was increased to 12 bears from the Davis Strait subpopulation, one that is said to have a population of up to 2,500 bears.

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