Bowhead whale catch limits adopted by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) for aboriginal subsistence hunters in Alaska and Russia over the next six years are sustainable, The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) announced.
NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service released a final environmental impact statement and opinion supporting the limits -- a strike quota of 82 bowhead whales per year for both Alaska and Russian Natives through 2018. The quota includes a carry-forward of 15 unused strikes from prior years.
A strike is defined as penetration with a whaling weapon. About three-quarters of whales struck are landed.
The decision comes amid news that bowhead whales have seen a huge population increase off of Alaska's North Slope. Since researchers in the North Slope Borough began counting their numbers in 1978, the population has increased from 1,200 animals to more than 14,000. NOAA cites that growth as a factor in determining the effect of human activities on the bowheads.
Eleven northern Alaska communities take fewer than 1 percent of the bowhead population per year.
The next step is for the U.S. and Russia to sign a joint agreement to divide the catch limits. NOAA Fisheries' preferred alternative is that no more than 306 whales would be landed by Alaska Eskimos and no more than 30 would be landed by Russian Natives.