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Alaska Eskimo bowhead whale harvest quotas up for review

Eric Christopher Adams
Tony Hopfinger photo

Federal scientists plan to evaluate the number of bowhead whales Alaska Eskimos can harvest in future annual subsistence hunts.

The National Marine Fisheries Service will over coming months conduct an environmental review of the bowhead harvest quota for Native hunters from 11 Arctic Alaska communities, according to a press release from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Currently, Alaska Natives are allowed to strike no more than 75 bowhead whales for harvest, according to federal records. That's estimated to be less than 1 percent of the Western Arctic bowhead whale population.

The environmental review will be made public next April; after that, the public will be invited to comment on the results. Bowhead whale hunt quotas are administered for NOAA by the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission under federal treaty.

NMFS will survey the bowhead whale population to provide an Environmental Impact Statement effective for four years, from 2013-2017, and will update federal subsistence harvest regulations. The current EIS expires next year.

Here's a portion of the NOAA announcement:

NOAA's goal is to accommodate federal trust responsibilities by recognizing cultural and subsistence needs of Alaska Natives to the fullest extent possible, while ensuring that any subsistence hunt of whales does not adversely affect the conservation of the whale stock.

Under the authority of the International Whaling Commission, NOAA Fisheries grants a quota of bowhead whale for subsistence hunts to the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission, based on analysis in the EIS. The AEWC then directly manages the subsistence hunts.

For over 2,000 years, Eskimos have hunted bowhead whales as they migrate along the coastline of Alaska in the spring and fall. Native subsistence hunters from 11 northern Alaskan communities take less than one-percent of the stock of bowhead whales per year.

For more information on subsistence whale harvesting in Alaska, check out the NOAA Fisheries website.

Contact Eric Christopher Adams at eric(at)alaskadispatch.com