State department working to overturn whale quota vote

Posted: Wednesday, June 19, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- Secretary of State Colin Powell is seeking to reverse a decision by the International Whaling Commission to disallow subsistence whaling in Alaska.

Powell told the Knowles administration that he will seek a special meeting of the commission to reverse the decision.

''If this approach is not successful, we will explore all other viable options,'' Powell said in a letter received Tuesday.

Last month the International Whaling Commission voted to block subsistence whaling by 10 Alaskan villages that are traditionally granted quotas.

The United States had asked the commission to renew a quota allowing the Eskimos to hunt 55 bowhead whales over five years.

A similar request was also voted down to allow Russia's indigenous Chukotka people to harvest 120 gray whales annually.

The vote was widely seen as payback for U.S. opposition to Japan's efforts to lift a 1986 ban on commercial whaling.

Japanese officials opposed the requests after Japan was denied the right to let four coastal whaling towns catch a total of 50 minke whales from nearby waters. Japan has made the request each year since 1988, Powell said.

American officials say aboriginal whaling differs from Japan's coastal whaling because there is no commercial benefit.

Inupiat and Yupik people in Alaska have been hunting whales for more than 4,000 years, the Knowles administration said.

''I think it's a good sign that the highest level of the State Department is aware of the seriousness of this issue and is aligned with the Alaska Natives of the North Slope in seeking to have this wrongheaded decision reversed,'' said Bob King, press secretary to Gov. Tony Knowles.

The state department has formally protested Japan's position and the behavior of its delegates, Powell said. The United States will continue to raise the issue with top Japanese officials at every opportunity, Powell said.

Other countries that voted against the request are also being urged to reconsider their votes, Powell said.

A special meeting of the International Whaling Commission would be sought only if it was clear that the necessary three-fourths votes were present to reverse the decision, Powell said.

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