Congressman says Alaska whale hunts will continue despite ban

Posted: Sunday, May 26, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Eskimo subsistence hunters who depend on bowhead whales will not be stopped by the International Whaling Commission's decision to ban the hunts, according to Alaska's only congressman.

U.S. Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, said Friday that, one way or another, North Slope and western Alaska villages will continue hunting whales even though the IWC this week voted against renewing quotas for subsistence hunting of bowheads.

''Despite the actions taken by the IWC, the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission will continue their harvest under domestic regulations until this can be corrected by the IWC,'' Young said in a statement released by his Anchorage office.

The United States had asked the commission to renew a quota allowing Eskimos to hunt 55 bowhead whales over five years. The request received 32 votes in favor and 11 opposed on Friday, the final day of the meeting in Shimonoseki, Japan, short of the three-fourths majority of the IWC's 48 members needed to pass. The proposal was initially rejected by delegates Thursday, but an amended version was resubmitted a day later.

The rejections came after the United States, Britain and other nations blocked Tokyo-led attempts to lift the IWC's commercial whaling ban. The IWC on Thursday denied a proposal to end the 1986 ban.

Earlier in the week, Japan was denied the right to let four coastal whaling towns catch a total of 50 minke whales from nearby waters.

Young is vice chairman of the House Resources Committee. Dave Whaley, a committee staff member, said the IWC has no power to sanction the United States if Alaska whalers ignore the ban, But he acknowledged that U.S. credibility could be questioned by other member nations if Eskimos hunt without a quota.

''Obviously, we don't want to go that route,'' he said. ''We want to do things legally.''

The IWC meets once a year. The decision could be reversed in a special meeting or by a mail ballot, Whaley said, and steps are under way to do so.

The quota is in effect through the fall hunt and whalers would not be affected until next spring, Whaley said.

Alaskans reacted strongly to the ban on Eskimo whaling.

U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, called the action outrageous and unacceptable.

''This decision was the worst form of petty global politics and is simply intolerable,'' Murkowski said. He intends to file a formal protest with the IWC.

''Subsistence whaling certainly is not a threat to the growing number of bowhead whales, but its absence is a threat to a centuries-old lifestyle and to the well-being of Alaska Eskimos,'' Murkowski said. ''Alaska Natives always have protected the whales, always observing sustain yield principles.''

Gov. Tony Knowles said the action was a harpoon aimed at the hearts of indigenous subsistence users of Alaska's North Slope and Russia's Chukotsk Peninsula.

''I intend to express Alaska's outrage over this matter to Secretary of State Colin Powell after first consulting with the whaling captains of the North Slope,'' Knowles said.

George Ahmaogak, a whaling captain and mayor of the North Slope Borough, urged the 10 villages that make up the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission to remain calm.

Ahmaogak, who landed a whale earlier this month, said the commission will work with the U.S. Department of Commerce to ensure protection of bowhead hunts.

''The 32 countries that voted to support our subsistence quota request support us in our efforts,'' Ahmaogak said. ''We will work with the U.S. and the whaling communities to take the necessary steps to protect and continue the way of life that our elders have taught us.''

The IWC was formed in 1946. The commission for years focused on commercial whaling activities for years but in 1977 voted to ban Alaska Eskimo subsistence harvest of bowhead whales.

Eskimo communities found out after the fact and formed the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission. Working with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the commission has since provided bowhead biological and census data to the IWC. Since hunting was resumed, the commission has regulated whale hunting among Alaska villages.

The IWC in 1978 granted Alaska Eskimos a quota of 12 bowhead whales taken or 18 struck. Numbers have increased as whale population estimates rose.

The Alaska commission represents 7,500 Inupiat and Yupik Eskimos who share in harvests.

''Eskimos believe that the whale gives itself to the deserving captains and crews,'' said Edward Itta, AEWC vice chairman. ''We honor and respect the whales. The whale has provided blubber to heat our homes and food for our people for two millennia. The whale is shared amongst the community. In our culture, it's an honor to share.''

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