Contact: Scott Smullen FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE U.S. Delegation Room 10/23/97
RUSSIAN - ALASKAN NATIVE BOWHEAD QUOTA ALSO APPROVED
MONACO -- The International Whaling Commission today adopted a quota that allows a five-year aboriginal subsistence hunt of an average of four non-endangered gray whales a year for the Makah Indian Tribe, combined with an average annual harvest of 120 gray whales by Russian natives of the Chukotka region.
A combined quota accommodates the needs of the two aboriginal groups hunting whales from a single stock. The commission adopted the combined quota by consensus, thereby indicating its acceptance of the United States' position that the Makah Tribe's cultural and subsistence needs are consistent with those historically recognized by the IWC. The Makah Tribe, located on the remote northwest tip of Washington state, expects to start its subsistence hunt in the fall of 1998 under government supervision. The Makah quota will not involve commercial whaling.
"The United States has fulfilled its moral and legal obligation to honor the Makah's treaty rights. The right to conduct whaling was specifically reserved in the 1855 U.S.-Makah Treaty of Neah Bay," said Will Martin, alternate U.S. commissioner to the International Whaling Commission, and deputy assistant secretary for international affairs for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The two countries agreed to submit a joint request for an average of 124 gray whales a year, of which 120 are for Russia's Chukotka people, and four are for the Makah Tribe. The United States and Russia tabled the joint resolution after many countries suggested that the two nations work together to address the needs of both native groups while reducing the overall quota. In preliminary proceedings, the Russian government had outlined its need for 140 gray whales a year and the Makah Tribe had outlined its need for up to five gray whales a year.
Over a five-year period, the joint quota will reduce the number of whales taken by 80 from the existing Russian 140-whale annual quota. The Commission's Scientific Committee will conduct an annual review of the gray whale stock and can recommend changes to the quota. "The approval of this joint gray whale quota reduces the overall number of whales taken while addressing the needs of native groups," said Martin.
The Makah request is unique among native peoples, in that the tribe's 1855 Treaty of Neah Bay is the only Indian treaty in the United States that expressly reserves a tribal right to go whaling. "We are pleased that the commission has recognized the cultural and subsistence need of the Makah Tribe," said Marcy Parker, Makah Tribal Council member, and member of the U.S. delegation. "We will now develop a management plan and are committed to being a responsible co-manager of the gray whale resource in our usual and accustomed whaling grounds."
The Makah have a 1,500-year whaling tradition. Tribal whaling ceased in the early 1900's after commercial whalers had decimated whale stocks and government assimilation programs forced tribal members to abandon their intricate whaling rituals and pursue an agrarian lifestyle. Today, almost half of the Makah people live below the poverty line, unemployment is nearly 50 percent, and their subsistence fish and shellfish resources are dwindling to all-time lows.
"We appreciate the support and dedication the United States government has shown the Makah Tribe in our request to resume our centuries-old whaling heritage. The Makah tribal members will now be able to again perform important whaling rituals and receive sustenance from this important and traditional marine resource. Today will mark one of the most significant events in our history with western civilization that will now be passed on through our oral traditions as a positive move toward cultural revival of vital missing links once thought lost to our people," said Parker.
The Makah Tribe will not use commercial whaling equipment, but will combine humane hunting methods with continued traditional hunting rituals, including using hand-crafted canoes. The U.S. government's environmental assessment of the hunt found it will not adversely affect the gray whale stock's healthy status, which is currently at more than 22,000. The gray whale was taken off the U.S. Endangered Species Act list in 1994.
In a related action, the commission approved on Wednesday a combined quota of bowhead whales to meet the needs of the Eskimos in Alaska and Russia. The combined quota allows an average of 56 bowhead whales to be landed each year. The Alaska Eskimos have been conducting aboriginal subsistence hunts with approval of the International Whaling Commission since the commission began regulating such hunts in the 1970's.
"We are pleased that the commission continues to recognize the importance of the bowhead whale hunt to Alaskan Eskimos," said Martin. "The central focus of the bowhead hunt in the culture of the Eskimos is well known."
The 39-member International Whaling Commission is the sole international body with authority to regulate all forms of whaling. Under the commission's whaling regulations, native communities are allowed quotas for subsistence and cultural purposes. Such quotas prohibit the sale of any edible whale products from aboriginal subsistence hunts.