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Board seeks seasonal shipping shutdown
Demanding Northwest Passage route closure from October to July to protect hunters and caribou

Derek Neary
Northern News Services
Monday, October 2, 2017

Ships breaking through Northwest Passage ice are endangering hunters and caribou, according to the Kitikmeot Regional Wildlife Board, which is urging a seasonal halt to shipping.

The board is sending a letter to the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board calling for an end to vessels disrupting caribou migration routes from the second week of October until July, said Bobby Greenley, a board member in Cambridge Bay, where the wildlife board's AGM was held September 19 to 21.

The Dolphin and Union caribou herd, for example, migrate from Victoria Island to the mainland every fall, Greenley said.

"As soon as there's a thin layer of ice, the caribou will start crossing, so if you have a ship come through and they bust open that thin layer of ice, the caribou can't cross and some might drown," he said.

He added that hunters who travel long distances across frozen bodies of water could be stranded while making their return trip when they are confronted with open water created by new shipping channels.

A Chinese icebreaker made a voyage through the Northwest Passage this summer and the Chinese government has made public statements about the potential to use the route for commercial shipping, which adds to the growing concern, Greenley noted.

"Who are the ones that decided or are making up all these rules and regulations for the shipping to come through?" he said. "They should be contacting us up North here to help decide on these rules."

Transport Canada couldn't be reached for comment prior to press deadline.

Northwest Passage shipping traffic has been the subject of international debates for decades, but the issue has been heating up as the water itself warms and ice lessens. Canada claims the waters surrounding its Arctic islands are Canadian jurisdiction, but that has been disputed, including by American government officials who insist the route is in international waters.

In 2014, then-prime minister Stephen Harper, following the discovery of the wreckage of the Franklin ship Erebus in the Queen Maud Gulf, used the occasion to make another declaration that Canada lays claim to the Northwest Passage.

"This is truly a historic moment for Canada," Harper told the media.

"Franklin's ships are an important part of Canadian history given that his expeditions, which took place nearly 200 years ago, laid the foundations of Canada's Arctic sovereignty."

It was under Harper's Conservative government that Operation Nanook, annual military exercises held in the North, were launched as a means of demonstrating Canadian sovereignty over the country's Arctic territory.

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