There has been concern in the past that West Greenland narwhals were declining in numbers due to overharvesting. This concern was based on an apparent decline in summer numbers at Inglefield Bredning in between 1986 and 2002, and a decline in the numbers seen in winter index surveys conducted in the 1980’s and 1990’s in Disko Bay (NAMMCO 2006, NAMMCO 2010). However, more recent surveys (Heide-Jørgensen et al. 2010) do not suggest that numbers are in decline, and that other factors such as methodological differences between surveys and annual fluctuations in numbers due to ice conditions may have contributed to the previous apparent decline. In 2012, both the JCNB and the NAMMCO Scientific Committees used recent abundance estimates and other information to conclude that quotas and takes from the summer aggregations at Inglefield Bredning and Melville Bay are sustainable (NAMMCO 2013). It was recommended that, in order to have a 70% probability of population increase, narwhal catches should total no higher than 310 per year in West Greenland. The Greenland Home Rule Government accepted this advice and has limited harvests in West Greenland since 2007. The fall and winter harvests at Uummmanaqqq and Disko Bay are likely supplied by both Greenlandic and Canadian summer aggregations, and present quotas and takes are considered sustainable (NAMMCO 2013).
In 2012 the NAMMCO Scientific Committee provided options for sustainable harvests and their associated risks of depleting the stocks at Scoresby Sound and areas farther to the south (NAMMCO 2013). It was generally concluded that current harvest levels are likely sustainable in all areas of East Greenland. It was recommended that, in order to have a 70% probability of population increase, narwhal catches should total no higher than 85 per year in East Greenland. The Greenland Home Rule Government accepted this advice and has limited harvests in East Greenland since 2009.
NAMMCO and the JCNB are continuing to work on stock definition, and developing methods to manage shared stocks of narwhal between Canada and Greenland. Currently the Joint Scientific Working Group is developing a model that will allow managers to allocate quotas to different hunting communities based on which stock their harvest may be coming from (see the report from SC/21, and more information in Scientific Committee Working Groups). Once the model is complete, the JWG will update it's advice on quotas.
There are no conservation concerns with the narwhal hunts associated with the summering aggregations of Somerset Island, Admiralty Inlet, Eclipse Sound, and East Baffin Island (DFO 2012c).
There was previous concern about the status of this stock, however after a survey in August 2010, it was determined that previous surveys may have been negatively biased and that there was no evidence of depletion in Admiralty Inlet (DFO 2012a). As a result of this survey, the NAMMCO/JCNB Joint Working Group recommended increased quotas in this area (NAMMCO 2013).
Because there is very little data available for narwhals in Parry Channel, Jones Sound, and Smith Sound, the sustainability of the narwhal hunt in these areas has not been evaluated (DFO 2012c).
The present harvest of this stock is considered sustainable (DFO 2012d).