NOAA NMFS 2001-04AKR
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Carol Tocco
1/18/01

MORATORIUM EXTENDED TO PROHIBIT HUNTING OF COOK INLET BELUGA WHALES

Congress recently passed a bill containing language that extends indefinitely the prohibition on subsistence hunting in Cook Inlet, Alaska, for beluga whales, unless through a cooperative agreement between NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service and Alaska Native organizations. This restriction was originally enacted in May of 1999, and expired October 1, 2000. With the passing of Public Law 106-553, it is again in effect.

"A cooperative agreement allows a limited harvest of beluga whales to continue in order to provide for customary and traditional use," said Jim Balsiger, Alaska Regional Administrator for NOAA Fisheries. "At the same time, continuing the lower harvest rate will allow the stock to recover."

NOAA Fisheries and the Cook Inlet Marine Mammal Council signed a co-management agreement for the year 2000. Under this agreement, one Cook Inlet beluga whale could have been harvested by the Native Village of Tyonek. However, no whales were harvested in 2000. NOAA Fisheries is proposing a co-management agreement for 2001 and future years.

The Cook Inlet stock of beluga whales has declined drastically in recent years. Once estimated to exceed 1,000 whales, NOAA Fisheries currently estimates the population at 357. The Cook Inlet stock has declined 15 percent per year from 1994 -1998. Native subsistence harvests account for the largest human-caused removals from this stock.

The declining abundance estimates for this stock between 1994 and 1998 led NOAA Fisheries to designate the stock as depleted under the Marine Mammal Protection Act on May 31, 2000. NOAA Fisheries has completed a draft environmental impact statement, available at http://www.fakr.noaa.gov/protectedresources/whales/beluga.htm, and is working on proposed regulations to further protect these animals and allow for their recovery to non-depleted levels.

NOAA Fisheries conducts scientific research and provides services and products to support domestic and international fisheries management, fisheries development, trade and industry assistance, enforcement, and protected species and habitat conservation programs.