Sachs muskox heads to market
Qiviut bound for Peru

Doug Ashbury
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Feb 21/00) - After a two-year cessation, a significant amount of muskox meat from the Inuvialuit region is being processed for wholesaling, says Patrick Schmidt.

Meat from last fall's 1,500 muskoxen, harvested near Sachs Harbour, is being processed by Alsask Beef Company in Edmonton and will be distributed by Vancouver company Hills Meats, says Schmidt, harvest manager for the North's largest muskox hunt.

"We feel the principle market is the U.S.," he said. Some will be sold in the North.

"We're not in competition with other muskox (harvests), our competition is largely other game products," he said.

Schmidt said he has yet to calculate what the meat will be priced at because costs associated with the federally-approved hunt are not yet final.

"We have a preliminary pricing. The final pricing is not yet done," he said. This type of meat is more popular in the fall and winter so Schmidt said holding costs associated with refrigerated warehousing will be a factor during the off-season. Once a holding strategy is determined, the pricing will be set.

It is estimated the processing costs at the temporary abattoir, located five kilometres outside Sachs, are around $700,000. The hunt, carried out last October and November, yielded 102,250 kilograms (225,000 pounds) of muskox meat. The harvest was the region's second largest muskox harvest ever. The largest was about 1,800 in 1992.

Transportation costs associated with getting the federally-inspected meat from Sachs Harbour to Edmonton are high. The meat is flown from Sachs to Inuvik then trucked to Alberta. About 30 DC3 flights were needed for the air leg.

Asked if the hunt will at least break even, Schmidt said, "We'll know in the next couple of months. I'm confident we will at least break even."

He adds that the muskox meat industry is still in its infancy.

Schmidt said he would like to crunch some numbers on what capital expenditures now -- like some types of permanent structures at the abattoir site -- might mean to future costs.

He is also looking at the challenges, the costs, the risks and how to invest to mitigate them.

The hunt was financed through an NWT Business Credit Corporation loan. Schmidt said organizers preferred not go after any kind of government subsidy.

"We're trying to make it work on its own and it's close," he said.

Last fall's Banks Island muskox hunt followed a similar hunt two years ago.

One of the big differences this time around was the weather. The recent hunt, which employed 35 people from Sachs Harbour, Tuktoyaktuk and Inuvik, was carried out under ideal weather conditions. Two years ago blizzards and wolves drove off several animals.

As for the muskox wool (Qiviut), it has been sold to Banff-based Jacques Cartier Clothiers, which will ship it to Peru where it will be processed, said Schmidt.

And in about two months, Schmidt will start the planning process for this year's muskox hunt, which will hopefully be held late this year.

John Nagy, wildlife management supervisor with Resources, Wildlife and Economic Development, said in 1998 -- the most recent a survey was conducted -- the Bank's Island non-calf muskox population was estimated at 46,000.

Counting the calves is difficult due to their size and that fact that they are often obscured by larger animals.

That figure is down markedly from the 1994 survey, which reported a non-calf population of 65,000.

Nagy said it is unknown why the population dropped.

"We feel the population reached maximum."

He said RWED will be monitoring the herd closely adding that "the muskox are still quite healthy."

As for the muskox population on Northwest Victoria Island, Nagy said numbers are about 19,000 there, based on the 1998 survey.

"We believe (Victoria) numbers are increasing," he added.