From: Rachel D'Oro, Associated Press
Published May 29, 2007 12:00 AM

Alaska Natives Need Whale Quota, Says U.S. Senator at International Whaling Panel

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- Renewing a five-year bowhead whale quota for Alaska native communities that rely on subsistence whaling is crucial, a U.S. senator said Monday at opening of the International Whaling Commission meeting.

"It is more than a right -- it is an absolute necessity which affects every facet of their well-being," said Sen. Ted Stevens, an Alaska Republican, told delegates of the 76-nation commission. "To deny this history would jeopardize their way of life."

The meeting drew scores of anti-whaling activists to monitor the four-day proceedings and lobby for increased protection for the marine mammals. Among other issues, they are keeping a close watch on a proposed renewal of bowhead whale quota for indigenous hunters, such as Alaska natives in 10 coastal villages.

The proposed subsistence renewal would keep the quota for Alaska natives at 260 bowhead whales through 2012. That number is supported by the U.S delegation and other nations who say bowhead populations have steadily increased under the quota.

Harvesting whales is considered a sacred accomplishment by many of an estimated 5,000 Eskimos who heavily rely on the meat to fill their tables. Ceremonial dances are held to bless the hunts and successful harvests prompt village celebrations where the meat is cut up and distributed.

Alaska natives were harmed when the quota was suspended in 1977 by the commission, Stevens said. Until the quota was restored the following year, canned beef had to be flown in to the remote villages to make up the loss of protein and fat, but it wasn't enough, Stevens said.

"These were poor substitutes for whale blubber, which fortifies Native people against the harsh Arctic climate," he said.

The meeting is expected to end with the continuation of a 21-year moratorium on commercial whaling despite a symbolic resolution to overturn the ban that was passed at last year's meeting. A 75 percent majority would be necessary to end the moratorium, but the vote fell short of that mark.

The moratorium was enacted in 1986 to protect several vulnerable species.

Pro-whaling nations, including Japan, Norway and Iceland, argue that it is no longer needed because whale populations have rebounded. Norway and Iceland do not recognize the ban and conduct commercial whaling and Japan hunts whales under a research provision allowed by the IWC.

Activists oppose a program in which Japan kills about 1,000 whales each year for scientific research and then sells the meat. Critics say the program is nothing but a loophole that defies the moratorium and should be better scrutinized by whale-friendly nations.

Japan plans to seek "community whaling" status, which would give it quotas under provisions similar to those that allow Alaska natives and other indigenous groups to hunt the mammals. Japan has tried and failed to get quotas for more than two decades, said Joji Morishita, the alternate IWC commissioner for Japan.

Japan contends that commercial whaling can coincide with environmental interests if done properly. The IWC needs to focus on managing the hunting of plentiful species rather than squelching a practice that has existed for thousands of years, said Morishita.

The meeting continues through Thursday.


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