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COSEWIC Assessment and Update Status Report on the Atlantic Walrus in Canada

Existing Protection or Other Status Designations

Regulations on the hunting of walruses in Canada, and on the international trade in walrus parts, afford very limited protection for Atlantic walrus populations in Canada.

Canadian Harvest Quotas and Protection

Walrus hunting in Nunavut is co-managed by the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board (NWMB), which is charged under Bill C-133 with making all decisions about wildlife management in Nunavut. The board consists of four Inuit and four Government representatives, plus a Chairperson. Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) advises the NWMB and hunting communities on sustainable hunting levels and they in turn use this information to manage community hunts. Regional Wildlife Organizations and the local Hunters and Trappers Organizations also play a role in the management of walruses. While the NWMB is the main instrument of wildlife management and the main regulator of access to wildlife in the Nunavut Settlement Area (NSA), government retains ultimate responsibility for wildlife management. Hunting regulations are implemented under the Fisheries Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Regulations by DFO, which manages walrus in other jurisdictions in cooperation with other agencies.

Inuk and Indian natives of Canada can kill up to four walruses per year without a licence, except where community quotas limit annual catches. Non-natives require a licence under the Marine Mammal Regulations or Aboriginal Communal Fishing Licence Regulation to hunt walruses (DFO 2000; Hall 2003). Sport hunts are managed by limiting the number of licences approved annually. Since 1980, Coral Harbour has had an annual harvest quota of 60 walruses, Sanikiluaq 10, Arctic Bay 10, and Clyde River 20 (Strong 1989). In the other communities, it is the number of Inuit rather than the number of walruses that limits the harvest (Stewart 2002). This latter system of management is clearly contrary to sound population management practices, as it does not consider the ability of the population to sustain the potential kill.

In 2001, there were 1225 people of Aboriginal descent living in Igloolik and 585 in Hall Beach (Statistics Canada 2001 community profiles). Assuming that they were all of Inuk descent, and because the age and sex of an Inuk who is entitled to kill walruses is not defined, each of these people was entitled to land 4 walruses. If non-hunters assigned their harvest rights to a hunter, Inuk residents of the two communities could legally have landed 7240 walruses in 2001, perhaps the entire walrus population of Foxe Basin. The Nunavut Wildlife Management Board is considering new ways of managing the walrus hunt.

Within Canada, trade in edible walrus parts is prohibited except among Indians and Inuit in the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Yukon Territory, Quebec and Newfoundland (Marine Mammal Regulations SOR/93-56). Beneficiaries of the Western Arctic (Inuvialuit) Claims Act and the James Bay and Northern Quebec Native Land Claims Settlement Act must conduct any trade in walrus parts in accordance with the agreement in which the beneficiary is enrolled. The regulations prohibit disturbing, killing ineffectually, hunting without equipment to retrieve, waste of edible parts, and abandoning a killed walrus without making a reasonable effort to retrieve it.

Live capture and tagging are permitted only with a licence. In Nunavut, the NWMB must approve such requests. The Board is currently developing a Live Capture Policy, in consultation with Nunavut hunters and their local and regional organizations (J. Galipeau, NWMB, pers. comm. 2004).

A Marine Mammal Transportation Licence from DFO is required to transport walrus parts within Canada, with the exception of Indians or Inuit who land the walrus in one jurisdiction and are returning to their home in another jurisdiction (Marine Mammal Regulations SOR/93-56).

International Trade and Cooperation

The Atlantic walrus is listed in Appendix III of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) (Richard and Campbell 1988; Hall 2003). Anyone wishing to export walrus parts or derivatives from Canada must obtain an export permit from the Canadian CITES administration. A total of 181 CITES export permits were issued from 1992 to 2001 (Hall 2003). Canada does not consider that additional protective measures are warranted for Atlantic walrus under CITES at the current level of international trade.

There is no formal management agreement between Canada and Greenland in the management of shared stocks of Atlantic walrus. An independent group of international experts on walrus from countries within the species’ range, The Walrus International Technical and Scientific (WITS) Committee, has convened several workshops to promote international cooperation among walrus managers and the exchange of scientific information (Stewart et al. (ed.) 1993). This group also includes walrus hunters.

Status Designations

The “Northwest Atlantic” or “maritime” population of Atlantic walruses in Canada was considered by COSEWIC to have been extirpated (Reeves 1978; Richard and Campbell 1988). Other Canadian populations of the subspecies were designated as Not at Risk in 1987.