Traditional Harvesting

Other PEMT sensitivity layers in this region:
Polar Bear | Narwhal | Migratory Birds | Species of Conservation Concern | Traditional Harvesting

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Valued Component Features

Rationale for Selection

Traditional harvesting is of significant social, cultural and economic value to the Inuit in the study area. Marine and terrestrial wildlife have provided food and clothing and materials for tools, arts and crafts for Inuit and their ancestors for thousands of years and continue to do so (Nunavut Planning Commission 2000). The availability of traditionally harvested foods lowers the demand for imported food which is both costly and often less nutritious. Additionally, the harvesting of wildlife and subsequent distribution and use of the harvest provides important opportunities to maintain and enhance Inuit culture.

Traditional Harvesting Activities

Nanavut Settlment Area

Information outlining specific harvesting locations is limited. The Nunavut Wildlife Harvest Study provides information about the number of harvesters and harvested species in Nunavut over the five year period between 1996 and 2001; however, the locations of harvest are not available. The Nunavut Atlas (Riewe 1992) provides information on important wildlife areas and harvesting locations for each community in Nunavut. The information in the Nunavut Atlas is dated; however, it is the most comprehensive record of harvesting areas available for Nunavut. Additionally, while the NBRLUP illustrates important areas for wildlife and harvesting, it does not provide detailed information on harvesting locations within the study area. Accordingly, the following summary of traditional harvesting in the study area relies on information from the Nunavut Atlas (Riewe 1992). For a summary of this information, see Table 4-1. Traditional harvest sites are summarized in FigureS 4-13 (winter) and 4-14 (summer).

Bache Peninsula

There is a major travel route between Ellesmere Island and Axel Heiberg Island, through Eureka Sound. This is a snowmobile travel route used occasionally by Grise Fiord hunters to travel between Grise Fiord and Eureka. The intensity of land use in this area is rated as medium. Caribou are occasionally hunted along the east side of Eureka Sound.

Raanes Peninsula and Svendsen Peninsula on the east side of Ellesmere Island as well as Baumann Fiord were reported to be used by Grise Fiord hunters during winter and spring to hunt for polar bears and caribou. The intensity of land use in this area is rated as high. Most caribou are taken along the shores of Blind Fiord, while Baumann Fiord is where polar bears are often found.

Sverdrup Islands

The southern portion of Axel Heiberg Island, along the coast and in Norwegian Bay, has a reported high level of Inuit land use. There are about several camping sites present and Grise Fiord hunters were reported to use this area every year during spring and winter to hunt for polar bears.

King Christian Island

Penny Strait and Queens Channel, east of Bathurst Island as well as the eastern coastline of Bathurst Island are rated as having a medium intensity level of Inuit land use. There are camping sites present on the eastern coastal side of Bathurst Island. This area was used for caribou hunting by Resolute

hunters until 1974; however, due to a rapid decrease in population the Resolute Hunters and Trappers Association (HTA) declared a moratorium on caribou hunting here. Penny Strait and Queens Channel have been occasionally used in March and April by the Resolute hunters for polar bears.

Norwegian Bay

Part of Norwegian Bay has an Inuit land use intensity rating of high. There are several camping sites in the area, as well as a few fishing sites.

Norwegian Bay was reported to be used annually for polar bear hunting during the spring by hunters from Grise Fiord.

Grise Fiord residents conduct caribou hunting on Graham Island, Buckingham Island and the western portion of Ellesmere Island in the spring, and occasionally during the fall.

The northern portion of Devon Island which falls within this study area is used to hunt caribou in August, by hunters from Grise Fiord. There are also some fishing sites in this area where Arctic char are fished for during summer.

Byam Channel

Byam Channel, which lies between Melville Island and Byam Martin Island, has been rated as having a medium intensity level of Inuit land use. This area has been used by Resolute hunters to hunt for polar bears (also in Byam Martin Channel and on the southeast coast of Melville Island).

Inuvialuit Settlement Region

The following information has been obtained from the Olokhaktomiut Community Conservation Plan (OCCP 2000). Traditional harvesting activities by residents of Uluhaktok which occur in the study area are described below. For a summary of this information, see Table 4-1.

Within this area, the OCCP (OCCP 2000) describes special designation areas. Those which fall into the study area include: 502B, 503B, 504E and 505E. Harvesting activities are described below for each of these special designated areas.

502B - Emangyok Sound Coastline over to Byam Martin Island

This area includes the south-eastern coastline of Melville Island and Byam Channel, which also includes harvesting by Resolute hunters as indicated in Section The people of Uluhaktok and Sachs Harbour also use this area for subsistence hunting from November to May. Year-round, this area provides important habitat for polar bears, ringed seal, and bearded seal and is an important feeding area for beluga. The area has been used by Inuvialuit for generations and is, therefore; an important traditional and cultural site. The OCCP (2000) raises concern that marine traffic would have a negative impact on traditional harvesting in the area.

503B - Coastline, Kangikhokyoak (Liddon)

This area includes the south side of Melville Island, north of Liddon Gulf, as well as the southern portion of Byam Martin Island. This area falls partially in the study area. This area is noted as being important for traditional harvesting from November to May. The OCCP also reports concerns about negative effects of petroleum industry activity on wildlife habitat.

504E - Ibbett Bay to McCormick Inlet

This designated site includes a section of Melville Island inland from the mouth of Ibbett Bay inland heading east to the mouth of McCormick Inlet. The Dorset encampment site, located here, is most north-westerly known Inuit site in the Canadian Arctic.

505E - Prince Patrick - Key Bird Habitat

This area includes the area on the south-eastern part of Prince Patrick Island in the study area. It is important polar bear habitat and for subsistence harvesting.

Table 4-1: Harvested Species by Community and Time of Year – High Arctic Study Area (Riewe 1992; OCCP 2000)

Readers are cautioned that most of the information presented above was collected several decades ago and while traditional harvesting activity remains strong, areas of use, levels of harvest and management actions will have changed over time.

Susceptibility to Oil and Gas Activities

The analysis of susceptibility of traditional harvesting to oil and gas activity is restricted to consideration of routine exploration and development activities. As such, the potential effects of a catastrophic event such as an oil spill is not considered. The study area includes both terrestrial and marine areas, providing for both land based and marine oil and gas activity.

Harvested species and their habitats sensitivity to oil and gas activity will affect the presence and abundance of the species and therefore its availability to be harvested. Sensitivity of wildlife is reported elsewhere in this study. Traditional harvesting activity and oil and gas activity may interact directly when both activities occur in the same area at the same time. Industry activity may be both mobile (seismic) or stationary (drilling, support base) providing opportunities for a number of different direct  interactions with traditional harvesting such as disturbance to harvesting areas, physical barriers, noise propagation breaking of ice, visual disruption, etc., which can potentially negatively affect harvesting.

Seismic Exploration

Seismic activity in the study area could occur on land during winter and summer while marine seismic would be conducted during the summer open water season. Terrestrial seismic activity has the potential to affect wildlife presence and limit access to harvesting opportunities. Within the marine environment, seismic surveys may interfere with migration of marine wildlife and potentially affect the availability of species for harvesting.

Ice-based Activities

Drilling and drilling support activities may be conducted on the ice. Under routine conditions these activities would generate noise under ice and above the ice. This may result in avoidance by wildlife and reduce harvesting opportunity. Depending on the length and timing of drilling season ice breaking by ship may be undertaken. In addition to noise generated by ice breaking, resulting ship tracks can present a safety hazard as a result of open water and rough ice when the tracks freeze.


Shipping to support oil and gas activity may disrupt migrations of marine wildlife and consequently their availability for harvest. The presence of marine vessels in a traditional harvesting area may prevent or discourage harvesters from utilizing the areas. Intensive shipping such as regular transits between a shore base and an offshore location may result in traditional harvesters moving to another area if possible.

Sensitivity Ranking

In developing a sensitivity layer for traditional harvesting, consideration was given to the Areas of Importance identified in Appendix G of the NBRLUP, the land use categories presented in the Olokhaktomiut Community Conservation Plan (OCCP 2000) and the frequency and amount of documented harvesting activity. Four levels of importance are defined for areas in the NBRLUP, based on a combination of importance to community harvesting and wildlife productivity. Five categories of lands are designated in the Olokhaktomiut Community Conservation Plan. The Areas of Importance presented in the NBRLUP and the land use categories included in the Olokhaktomiut Community Conservation Plan cover part of the current study area. For that portion of the study area not covered by the NBRLUP or the Olokhaktomiut Community Conservation Plan, sensitivity is considered to be low. Sensitivity ranking for traditional harvest in the high arctic study area is summarized in Figure 4-15.

Sensitivity levels for traditional harvesting are defined as follows:

High Sensitivity (5)

Highly sensitive ratings are given to those areas deemed essential harvesting locations (community cannot survive without the area), an area that provides essential habitat with no alternative available, or an area that supports rare, threatened or endangered species or is protected or proposed for legislative protection (NBRLUP). This rating is also given to Lands and waters where cultural or renewable resources are of extreme significance and sensitivity and no development should be allowed (OCCP).

Moderate/High Sensitivity (4)

Areas of great importance to the community and where much of the community's harvest comes from the area are rated moderately to highly sensitive. This rating also applies to areas that provide important wildlife habitat (however, alternate habitat is available) (NBRLUP), and lands and waters where cultural or renewable resources are of particular significance and sensitivity throughout the year (OCCP).

Moderate Sensitivity (3)

Moderate sensitivity was applied to areas of general harvesting use by the community or where a smaller proportion of harvest comes from these areas than more important areas. Generally there are fewer species present, key habitat for harvested species is not present, and alternate habitat is available (NBRLUP). This rating also applies to lands and waters where cultural or renewable resources are of particular significance and sensitivity during specific times of the year (OCCP).

Low/Moderate Sensitivity (2)

This rating applies to lands where there are cultural or renewable resources of some significance and sensitivity (OCCP), areas where species of harvest interest may be present, but there is limited documented harvesting.

Low Sensitivity (1)

These areas are not used much by the community and little information exists to assess its importance to wildlife (NBRLUP). This includes lands where there are no known significant or sensitive cultural or renewable resources (OCCP)


Traditional harvesting is dependent on the availability of species to harvest and the opportunity to practice harvesting. Species presence depends on the availability of habitat and healthy and viable populations. The opportunity to practice harvesting requires time to participate in the activity, equipment to conduct harvesting and access to species of interest. Many northern industrial activities have developed work schedules that not only reflect the time and cost of accessing work sites, but also provide northern residents sufficient length of time off to pursue traditional harvesting opportunities. Access to species of interest and harvesting areas can be maintained by avoidance of harvesting areas completely, or at times of the year when harvesting activities occur. Compensation may be considered to provide resources for harvesters to travel to different areas or compensate for the loss of access when avoidance is not possible.

Potential Effects of Climate Change

The effects of climate change are not fully understood; however, changes to the northern environment resulting from climate change are being observed. The reduction in ice cover during summer periods has been well documented and may lead to increased activity in the marine environment. Ice also provides habitat for species such as polar bear, a reduction in ice cover can negatively affect wildlife populations and their availability for harvest. Barren-land caribou populations are declining in northern Canada; while a range of factors may be responsible for this decline, climate change effects are noted as one potential cause of the decline. Reduction in species populations resulting from climate change will reduce the opportunity for traditional harvest.


See references used for Traditional Harvesting information.