Center of Expertise in Marine Mammalogy: Scientific Research Report 2009-2011

4.0 Relationships with co-management boards

4.1 Marine Mammal Research in the North: Working with Hunters and Communities (Becky Sjare, Lois Harwood, Steve Ferguson, Veronique Lesage)

Background on Co-management

Co-management approaches are the basis of marine mammal and fish resource conservation throughout much of Canada's northern regions. In general terms, co-management is a process that is rooted in legislation, ensuring local hunters and fishers, other community members, government agencies and various public boards share management and conservation responsibilities for marine mammal and fish resources. Some key features of co-management include shared research project design, implementation and participation at the community level, shared decision-making powers, and the use of traditional ecological knowledge along with the results of scientific research. Integrating these features ensures that research programs are effective and meaningful for all involved and that they address the longer-term management and conservation needs of the species in question.

Most of the co-management bodies in northern regions were established as a requirement of the Inuvialuit, Nunavik, Nunavut and Nunatsiavut Land Claims Agreements. Presently, there are several boards and committees functioning in Canada as a result of these and other land Claims, but the ones most relavent from the persepective of Departmental marine mammal research are the following: 1) the Fisheries Joint Management Committee (FJMC) operating in the Mackenzie Delta/Beaufort Sea since 1986; 2) the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board (NWB) established for the Eastern Arctic region in 1993; 3) the Torngate Joint Fisheries Board (TJFB) created for northern Labrador in 2005; and 4) the Nunavik Marine Region Wildlife Board (NMRWB) established in 2009 for northern Quebec.

The co-management bodies are the main instruments of marine mammal (and fisheries) management within the various land Claims settlement areas. They also provide direction and a framework for the development of marine mammal research partnerships and collaborations with DFO, as well as partial or total funding for the work. Although the governance structure and decision making powers of these bodies does vary, generally each has appointees nominated by Aboriginal Governments and/or organizations, communities, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, other federal government departments/agencies and, in some cases, Provincial or Territorial Governments.

Finding Common Ground

The nature and scope of the marine mammal research projects undertaken by co-management bodies and DFO in northern regions varies extensively with some partnerships and collaborations extending back to the mid 1980s such as the FJMC in the Western Arctic. Despite this diversity, it is evident that some common research themes have emerged across the various settlement areas in recent years including, but not limited to, the following: 1) the development of hunter/harvest-based biological monitoring programs for marine mammal subsistence species that are important from both a cultural and ecological perspective; 2) improving our mutual understanding of marine mammal seasonal movements and identification of critical habitats; 3) understanding and monitoring the effects of climate change on marine mammals and their habitats; 4) assessing potential impacts of industry activity on key species; and 5) building and developing research capacity, science-based education and decision-making expertise at the community level.

The FJMC in the Western Arctic was the first co-management body to adopt a hunter-based biological monitoring program to address both contemporary community issues and to fulfill the need for long-term marine mammal studies. The Committee and DFO researchers recognized that the subsistence harvest of marine mammals by Inuvialuit beneficiaries could provide long-term biological data that would otherwise be very expensive and logistically challenging to collect. Ongoing cooperative projects in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region include monitoring of both the ringed seal subsistence harvest (to examine body condition and reproduction; contaminant and disease loads), and the beluga whale harvest (to document size and sex of landed whales; timing of harvests; size of harvests). The Nunavut community-based monitoring network has developed into a consistent annual program within the greater Hudson Bay region since 2003. Nunavumiut hunters primarily collect seal (ringed, bearded, harp, harbour) and beluga and narwhal whale tissue samples as well as key marine mammal prey species. Since 2008, the TJFB has supported the Labrador biological collection program for ringed seals based out of the communities of Nain, Makkovik, Hopedale and Rigolet. Similar programs are likely to be undertaken in Nunavik once the newly created NMRWB is fully established. These monitoring programs engage and involve community members in all aspects of monitoring, and sample collection - from planning and coordination to communicating and interpreting data.

A hunter from Arviat, Hudson Bay is pictured giving a presentation to local elementary school children explaining how he coordinates the collection of ringed seal samples from local hunters in the area and then examines them (ringed seal foetus shown).

A hunter from Arviat, Hudson Bay is pictured giving a presentation to local elementary school children explaining how he coordinates the collection of ringed seal samples from local hunters in the area and then examines them (ringed seal foetus shown).
Photo: DFO

Understanding the seasonal movements of marine mammal species is necessary to properly assess population abundance, identify stocks or management units, identify critical habitats and ultimately develop long-term management and conservation strategies. Co-management bodies in all settlement areas have recognized this and partner with DFO on a variety of marine mammal satellite tagging programs (e.g. ringed seals, beluga whales, narwhal, bowhead whale). The contributions by hunters to these programs with regard to the selection of locations and times best suited for live captures, input on capture techniques, expertise in capture and handling animals and knowledge of animal behaviour have largely determined their success. Some of the results have surprised both hunters and DFO researchers and require new interpretations of migratory and diving behaviour as well as habitat use for some species. Presently there are experienced marine mammal tagging teams in Ulukhaktok, Tuktoyaktuk and Aklavik in the Western Arctic, Sanikiluaq, Igloolik and Kuujjuaraapik in the Hudson Bay region, and Nain and the Lake Melville area in Labrador.

The impacts of climate change on marine mammals, particularly those that are of cultural, nutritional and commercial importance is a major concern for co-management bodies, communities and the Department. Long-term data collected by the various hunter-based monitoring programs in all the settlement areas are presently being analyzed from the perspective of climate mediated changes in the marine environment (e.g. changes in sea ice coverage and snow accumulation) as are historical scientific data and local ecological knowledge regarding changes in animal distribution and abundance trends. These research approaches are providing species-specific 'snapshots' of change but don't adequately address how the dynamics of the ecosystem are being affected. In the Hudson Bay region of Nunavut, research to describe the complete food web in the Bay is being developed and will be used to build a model of trophic interactions from marine mammals down to nutrients and phytoplankton. Once this model is running it will be able predict how perturbations in the system, (e.g. effects of warmer water on key forage fish) may ultimately affect marine mammals. Predicting how to mitigate impacts of Arctic climate change on marine mammals, such as protection of seasonally critical habitats, or identification of the most vulnerable populations is relevant to the conservation of these species. Further, such information can be used by Northerners who will also need to adapt to preserve cultural and economic relevance of marine mammals in their communities.

Ringed seal satellite tagging team preparing to attach a tag on a juvenile ringed seal captured in the Lake Melville area, Labrador.

Ringed seal satellite tagging team preparing to attach a tag on a juvenile ringed seal captured in the Lake Melville area, Labrador.
Photo: DFO

Members of the Paulatuk satellite tagging team in the Western Arctic release a ringed seal.

Members of the Paulatuk satellite tagging team in the Western Arctic release a ringed seal.
Photo: DFO

A Hunter from the Hudson Bay area touring the DFO Freshwater Institute's marine mammal laboratory.

A Hunter from the Hudson Bay area touring the DFO Freshwater Institute's marine mammal laboratory.
Photo: DFO

The potential negative impacts of large scale industrial developments in northern regions are another major concern for co-management partners. The FJMC and DFO researchers in the western Arctic have conducted a number of collaborative studies examining the potential effects of oil and gas production in the Beaufort Sea, including the following more recent projects: effects of winter drilling activity on the distribution and movements of ringed seals (satellite tagging); the distribution, movements and behaviour of bowhead whales during summer feeding in the southeast Beaufort Sea (aerial surveys and satellite tagging); and distribution of beluga whales in the Mackenzie River estuary and adjacent offshore areas (aerial surveys, acoustic monitoring). With the prospect of oil and gas exploration in Baffin Bay and Lancaster Sound, new large scale mining proposals involving winter shipping and hydro electrical projects in the Hudson Bay region and both hydro electrical and oil and gas developments proposed along coastal Labrador, it is likely the impacts of these activities will be a concern to communities and the Department in the future.

The opportunities for hunters and other community members to learn new technical and leadership skills, to participate in all phases of a research program and to contribute their local ecological knowledge in an important and relevant manner is evident in the wide variety of programs briefly described here. Also, as previously mentioned, the success of many programs has been a direct result of hunter and/or community involvement. Throughout all the settlement areas there has be a concerted effort, some quite innovative, to improve communication and the flow of all types information including new opportunities for knowledge exchange among the co-management bodies, communities and the Department. For example, maps and animations of seal movements and locations (sometime in real time) from the satellite telemetry projects near Sanikiluaq, Hudson Bay, Amundsen Gulf, Beaufort/Chukchi Seas, and Lake Melville, Labrador can be viewed on internet. Posting these results on the web makes them available to the scientific community, media, northern communities, the public, students, and teachers in a timely manner. Looking to the future, both the Department and co-management bodies will continue to work closely to ensure the sustainable use and conservation of marine mammal resources in Canada's northern regions.

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