Conserving this Nation’s fish and other aquatic resources cannot be successful without the partnership of Tribes; they manage or influence some of the most important aquatic habitats both on and off reservations. In addition, the Federal government and the Service have distinct and unique obligations toward Tribes based on trust responsibility, treaty provisions, and statutory mandates.
Alaska Native Subsistence Whaling Efforts Gets Boost from Alaska's Delegation in Washington
Alaska's delegation to Washington introduced legislation to both the House of Representatives and the Senate for Alaskan Native Whalers living in 11 Alaska communities. The Legislation requests timely issuance of catch limits for subsistence hunting of Bowhead Whales. The two companion bills would require that the Secretary of Commerce to set catch limits and issue subsistence whaling permits under the Whaling Convention Act if the International Whaling Commission fails to set limits for Bowhead Whales.
The action was taken by Alaska's Washington delegation because of the International Whaling Commission catch limits are set to expire at the end of this year. The U.S. is seeking a 6 year renewal of the current catch limits. They would be in effect from 2013 to 2018. Political differences may hamper acting on the request to extend the limits by the International Whaling Commission. The request for extension is set to be acted on by the Commission at the Panama meeting slated for July 2 through to July 6th. The Bill was sponsored by Senator Begich and co-sponsored by Senator Murkowski in the Senate and the companion bill was introduced by Representative Don Young in the House.
According to their released statements, the bill would:
- Streamline the process for the U.S. to issue catch limits under the Whaling Convention Act, which is the existing legislation to implement the treaty;
- Ensure that any catch limits set by the U.S. are limited to the level set in the need statement provided by the U.S. to the IWC, are sustainable based on the most recent review of the bowhead stock by the IWC’s Scientific Committee, and comply with all treaty requirements;
- Require the U.S. to continue to seek IWC adoption of catch limits, even after such limits are set under this legislation, thus ensuring continued compliance with all IWC practices.
“There can be no compromise on meeting the nutritional needs of the Inupiaq residents of the North Slope and if the IWC is unable to extend the subsistence catch limits, the U.S. government must be prepared to do so,” said. Sen. Begich, chairman of the Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmospheres, Fisheries and Coast Guard. “This would be in harmony with existing scientific standards and other provisions of the whaling convention and puts the world community on notice that the U.S. is prepared to act to ensure the subsistence needs of our residents are met.”
“This legislation is needed to ensure that the remote Alaska communities that depend on bowhead whales for food do not experience any interruption of their subsistence hunts due to government inaction,” said Sen. Murkowski, co-chair of the Senate Oceans Caucus and member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. “These communities sit on the north and northwest coast of Alaska. They’re remote, have no road access and few nutrition options. Harsh conditions and minimal infrastructure make air and water transportation unreliable. Catch limits that would be set under this legislation are necessary as a matter of food security for whaling communities.”
“The science shows that the bowhead stock is growing and that Alaska Eskimos have been responsible stewards of the resource. We are not going to let IWC politics result in our Alaska communities being denied access to their traditional food source,” said Rep. Young. The IWC is the body created by the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, a 1946 treaty that the US has ratified and was instrumental in negotiating. If the IWC fails to act on the US request, the treaty still allows for aboriginal subsistence whaling on bowhead whales, but without numeric limits set by the IWC the US would have to determine how many whales can be taken annually to meet subsistence need as required under the treaty.