Science Advisory Report  2014/005

Harvest advice and effects of a flexible Total Allowable Take system for Nunavik beluga (Delphinapterus leucas)

Summary

  • Nunavik hunters harvest beluga from a mix of discrete stocks designated after their specific summering areas. Genetic analyses have shown that the proportion of Eastern Hudson Bay (EHB) beluga in the harvest varies spatially and seasonally.
  • Harvests in Nunavik have been stable in the past five years. Catches by Sanikiluaq (Nunavut) have increased in the last two years. The 2013 reported harvest comprised 8 beluga taken in eastern Hudson Bay, 158 in Hudson Strait and Ungava Bay in the spring and 87 in the fall, 76 near Sanikiluaq, and 10 in the Long Island/James Bay area.
  • Catch statistics were used to update a population model that integrates abundance estimates from aerial surveys and proportions from genetic analyses. Results suggest that there were ~3,240 EHB beluga in 2013, with indication of modest population growth.
  • Simulations using a modified version of the model show that flexible allocation of takes over 3-year management periods has little impact on the probability of decline of the EHB stock compared to an annual TAT. Only catching the entire TAT in the first year of each 3-year period had a measurable effect on the number of beluga associated with a given risk of stock decline after 12 years.
  • Removing 180 EHB beluga in each 3-year period has a 50% probability of causing stock decline, while lower harvests would likely allow some recovery.
  • Precise information on age structure of the stock and composition of the harvest is lacking. Harvesting a disproportionate amount of reproductive females in a single year, or removing entire family units during years of large harvests, would have negative effects on the stock that cannot be anticipated by the current model.
  • At current harvest rates, rebuilding the stock to levels observed in the early 1980s is unlikely.

This Science Advisory Report is from the October 7-11, 2013 Annual Meeting of the National Marine Mammal Peer Review Committee (NMMPRC). Additional publications from this meeting will be posted on the Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) Science Advisory Schedule as they become available.

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