Harvest Regulations

Credit: Kristin Laidre

Below you will find short summaries of each of the five Polar Bear Range State’s harvest regulations.


Within Canada, the authority for the management of polar bears lies with the seven provincial and territorial jurisdictions in which they occur (Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Ontario, Québec, and Yukon Territory). While the governments of the Provinces and Territories have the authority for management, the decision-making process may also include wildlife management boards that have been established under Aboriginal land claim agreements. In most Canadian jurisdictions, hunting seasons, quotas, and protection of family groups have been legislated; however, only Manitoba prohibits the hunting of polar bears. Although Ontario and Québec have no enforced quotas, only Indigenous people may hunt polar bears. Over 80% of the hunting of polar bears in Canada occurs in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, where management agreements and/or memoranda of understanding have been developed with local communities to ensure that all human-caused mortality is sustainable. Programs to monitor the annual human-caused mortality of polar bears are in place in all jurisdictions.


Harvest of polar bears in Greenland was undertaken without quotas until 2006, when the Government of Greenland introduced quotas. National regulations for Polar bear management are fixed by law based on the Government Act on Hunting no. 34 from May 23, 2023 in Executive Order 5 from March 6, 2023 on the Protection and Hunting of Polar Bears.

The Government of Greenland sets annual quotas taking into account:

  • International agreements,
  • Biological advice provided by Greenland Institute of Natural Resources,
  • Hunter and user knowledge
  • Harvest statistics, and
  • Consultations with members of the Hunting Council.

The quota is divided between relevant municipalities by the Department of Fisheries and Hunting in consultation with the Hunting Council, and they are set for three years or more. During the three years or more of regulations, the quotas have been set according to the recommendations from the Canada-Greenland Joint Commission on Baffin Bay and Kane Basin polar bears. The quota in East Greenland is set based on precautionary principles and the historical catch until biological advice is obtained.

The quotas for polar bear are mandatory and are enforced by a reporting system delivered to relevant municipality offices and forwarded to the Department of Fisheries and Hunting. This includes the license system and the annual catch report. The hunter must obtain a license issued from the local authorities before the hunt, and immediately after the hunt, the hunter must report the catch to the local authority by filling in a standardized form for all polar bear kills (including bears that were struck and lost). The form includes information on: Name of hunter, place, date, license number, location, sex, age and markings. The Department of Fisheries and Hunting will soon introduce digital catch reporting system, which will allow for more rapid collection of catch data.

Greenland has signed The International Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears. Greenland and Canada/Nunavut are working on a revision of the Memorandum of Understanding from 2009 to promote cooperation on shared populations. In 1985 Greenland obtained authority to issue CITES permits. Early 2007, the CITES Management Authority requested NDF (Non-Detrimental Finding) for polar bear, and the result was negative. After this Greenland introduced a voluntary temporally ban on export of Polar bear products.


Polar bears are fully protected in Norway and can only be killed in self-defense.


The polar bear was totally protected in Russia (USSR) in 1957. The only permitted take of polar bears is catching cubs for public zoos and circuses.

An Agreement between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the Russian Federation on the conservation and management of the Alaska-Chukotka polar bear population was signed in 2000. The Agreement came into force in September 2007. According to the Agreement native renewal of limited subsistence take of polar bears by native people of Chukotka (Russia) is possible. However, at present the quota is not fixed (what is obligatory for such hunting according to the Agreement) and the hunting has not started yet.


The Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 (MMPA) provides primary authorities for polar bear harvest management in Alaska. The MMPA prohibits hunting except by coastal-dwelling Alaska Natives for subsistence and handicraft purposes, provided the take is not wasteful.  The MMPA also prohibits the commercial sale of any marine mammal parts except when they have been significantly altered into handicrafts by Alaska Natives.  Under the MMPA, harvests quotas are not set unless polar bear populations are defined as “depleted” (below optimum sustainable population level). Harvest levels are monitored through mandatory marking, tagging, and reporting regulations that require that hides and skulls of harvested bears be tagged, and data recorded on each kill.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has primary responsibility for harvest management and works cooperatively with Alaska Native user groups (e.g., the Alaska Nannut Co-management Council, North Slope Borough) to address harvest issues under existing user group agreements.  In addition, international coordination is required for harvest management since both the Southern Beaufort Sea stock (SBS) and the Chukchi/Bering seas stock (CS) are shared with Canada and Russia, respectively. 

In recognition of the need for a more pro-active harvest management program for polar bears harvested in the SBS region, the Inupiat of Alaska and Inuvialuit of Canada developed and implemented an Inupiat-Inuvialuit (I-I) conservation agreement for the SBS population. The I-I Agreement was first signed in 1988, then re-negotiated, reviewed, and signed again in 1999. This agreement establishes sustainable harvest limits and allocates quotas (which are reviewed annually) between the jurisdictions.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Canadian Wildlife Service provide technical information to members of the I-I Agreement, including harvest data.  While the I-I Agreement is not legally binding, it has resulted in greater involvement by user groups in harvest management and conservation, as well as harvest levels generally remaining sustainable (Brower et al. 2002).  However, with a reduction in estimated population size reported for the SB population in 2010 (Bromaghin et al. 2015), it will likely be necessary to reduce existing harvest levels in the future.

Regarding the CS population, little information is available regarding population size; however, the combined Alaska-Chukotka harvest may well be exceeding sustainable levels, based on anecdotal reports of illegal harvest occurring in Russia, combined with legal harvest by Alaska Natives.  To address harvest and conservation issues regarding the CS population, the U.S. and Russia signed a bilateral agreement in October 2000, which provides for equal participation from Alaska and Chukotka Natives.  A total of four commissioners (one federal and one native representative from Russia and the U.S.) are responsible for overseeing development and implementation of management and research programs, including determination of harvest limits. In the U.S., implementing legislation necessary to carry out the Bilateral Agreement was passed in 2007.  Both the United States and the Russian Federation have appointed Commissioners for the Agreement and an initial meeting of the Commission is anticipated in 2009.

In May 2008, polar bears worldwide were listed as a “threatened” species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), due to range-wide declines in sea ice.  The ESA applies only to lands and waters under American jurisdiction.  Under the ESA, polar bears may still be hunted by Alaska Natives as long as the take is done for subsistence purposes, is not wasteful, and does not negatively affect the species.  Both the ESA and MMPA recognize the social, cultural, and economic importance of subsistence harvest to Alaska Natives, and that subsistence hunting in and of itself does not currently threaten the species in any significant portion of its range.  However, for some stocks, such as the CS and SBS stock, harvest must be closely monitored, and a reduction to existing harvest levels may be necessary to prevent accelerated decline of the stock.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will continue to work with the Alaska Native community to co-manage subsistence-related issues.


  • Bromaghin JF, McDonald, TL, Stirling I, Derocher AE, Richardson ES, Regehr EV, Douglas DC, Durner GM, Atwood T, and Amstrup SC. 2015. Polar bear population dynamics in the southern Beaufort Sea during a period of sea ice decline. Ecological Applications 25: 634-651.
  • Brower CD, Carpenter A, Branigan ML, Calvert W, Evans T, Fischbach AS, Nagy JA, Schliebe S, and Stirling I. 2002. The Polar Bear Management Agreement for the Southern Beaufort Sea: An evaluation of the first ten years of a unique conservation agreement. Arctic 55: 362-372.