Subsistence Whaling Extended with Vote in Panama

Delegation hails effort to meet nutritional needs of Alaska Native whalers

Alaska’s Congressional delegation praised strong advocacy by the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission (AEWC) and the committed work of the U.S. delegation to the International Whaling Commission (IWC) for the renewal of the annual catch limit for subsistence whaling of bowhead whales for six more years.  The annual catch limit of 336 whales over the six-year period was set to expire this year but was extended at the ongoing annual meeting of the IWC in Panama City, Panama. The catch limit passed this morning by a vote of 48 to 10.

“The subsistence bowhead harvest means food security for Alaska’s Inupiat and today’s action to extend the catch limit provides assurance they will be able to continue the annual whale hunt in a responsible and sustainable manner,” said Sen. Begich.  “The hunt not only helps meet nutritional needs, it is a vital part of the traditions and culture of the people of the North Slope.  Given the IWC’s track record, renewal of the whaling provision represents a hard fought victory for which I credit the work before and during the meeting by the AEWC whaling captains, their spouses and the leadership and scientists of North Slope Borough.  I also appreciate the strong support from the U.S. delegation to the IWC, led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. State Department.” 

"Establishing aboriginal subsistence whaling catch limits is a core responsibility for the IWC and critical to our whaling communities," said Sen. Murkowski. "I was concerned that politics and unrelated issues would get in the way of that process and threaten access to subsistence bowhead hunts beyond 2012. The AEWC and full U.S. delegation to the IWC worked hard over the past year to ensure IWC commissioners were well informed and positioned to conduct their business in Panama City. I commend their good work and preparation, and the IWC’s actions today."

“This is an important day for Alaska’s Inupiat people,” said Rep. Young. “Subsistence whaling is a way of life in Alaska and today’s vote by the IWC provides short-term stability for Alaska’s Inupiat. I want to commend all those who have worked hard on this issue – including the whaling captains and their families – who traveled thousands of miles to Panama.”

The consensus vote taken by the IWC today followed reports from scientists that the bowhead population was growing and review of the needs statement submitted by the AEWC. 

The U.S. delegation to the IWC meeting was led by Dr. Doug Demaster, science director of the Alaska Fishery Science Center, and NOAA’s Ryan Wulff.  A large contingent of North Slope residents attended the meeting led by AEWC chairman George Noongwook of Savoonga and co-chair Harry Brower of Barrow, North Slope Borough mayor Charlotte Brower, former mayor Edward Itta, and several other whaling captains.

Concerned by the use of the bowhead catch limit as a political pawn in the past and the general dysfunction of the IWC, the Alaska delegation introduced legislation last month which would allow the Secretary of Commerce to set the catch limit in the case the IWC failed to address the issue but relying on the same scientific standards and other requirements in the Whaling Convention.