The reality is there is little market for the meat in the winter, according to Northern merchants, and therefore little reason for them to risk the expense of shipping the meat products back from southern processing plants.
Juicy muskox burgers await patrons of Denis Savoie's restaurant in Inuvik. - Dorothy Westerman/NNSL photo
Tourists really go for juicy muskox burgers during the summer, says one Inuvik restaurateur.
"But in winter, I sell almost none," says Denis Savoie, owner of To Go's Take-Out restaurant, talking about the meat he describes as "more wild tasting than caribou."
While Northern muskox may not be prominent on store shelves, Savoie says it is available for purchase in many Inuvik restaurants.
He added that he doesn't understand why the meat cannot be purchased more readily throughout the North.
For Savoie, it's a matter of going through the proper channels and grinding the meat himself for his restaurant, he said.
At the Inuvik Northmart store, manager Cliff Stringer says muskox is sold in cans or in the form of jerky year-round, but the fresh product is not sold there.
"We find it's more of a summer item for tourists," Stringer says.
Terry Greene, owner of Northern Fancy Meats in Yellowknife, says he does not sell much muskox meat, either.
"Caribou seems to be what I sell the most of," Greene said.
"Muskox was never that popular. It is only available at certain times, which makes it inconsistent and hard to merchandise."
The sale of muskox requires only a general licence from Renewable Resources, so that is not an obstacle, he added.
"It's just a licence to deal in wild game, which covers muskox and caribou."
At times, Greene says, he has had requests for muskox meat, but because of a lack of availability, customers have left his shop empty-handed.
One reason for the lack of abundance of the meat may be that it is mainly shipped to markets in the south, he suggested.
Greene says it is possible the muskox meat harvested in the North goes instead to the world market.
"It doesn't come back to us at all. All the good cuts are gone somewhere else," Greene said.
"I'm in the business of selling meat, so anything that I can sell, I'd love to sell. The only thing with muskox is that it is just not available to us all the time. I would definitely have it out there with the caribou if it was available."
For those who depend on muskox for part of their winters' sustenance, however, no such shortage exists. "With the people living here, they have the opportunity to go hunting for it themselves, so you don't sell a lot to the local population, anyway."
Murray Arsenault, manager of community and economic development at the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation in Inuvik, says muskox meat harvested on Banks Island each year through the Sachs Harbour Hunters and Trappers Committee travels south for processing.
Because of the costs associated with processing and shipping that meat, Arsenault said muskox meat is not plentiful in Northern stores, as a cost would be added to ship the meat back up North.
"It's primarily for sale in higher-end establishments in southern Canada and tourism destinations," he said.
The amount of meat shipped out of the territories each year varies, he added.