Tribes gun for more whales–and polar bears
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 2002:
NEAH BAY, Washington–The Makah Tribal Council has asked the
U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service for a high-speed Coast
Guard-grade cutter similar to the whale-catchers used by Japan and
Norway– and has hinted that the Makah, like Japan, may engage in
so-called “research whaling.”
Claiming a right to kill gray whales since 1995, under the
1855 treaty that brought the Makah into the U.S., the Makah Tribal
Council said at first that it expected to sell whale meat to Japan.
That cannot be done commercially, however, so long as international
traffic in whale meat is forbidden by the Convention on International
Trade in Endangered Species. Although gray whales came off the U.S.
Endangered Species list in 1994, as officially recovered, selling
the meat of any great whales is still prohibited by CITES to protect
species still endangered, whose meat might be misrepresented as
having come from non-endangered whales.
But whale meat could be exported as part of a “research”
project, and could be sold–like the meat from Japanese “research”
whaling–after the studies are completed.
The National Marine Fisheries Service has authorized the
Makah to kill as many as 20 gray whales through 2002, and also
funded the Makah lobbying effort to obtain a whaling quota from the
International Whaling Commission. This was accomplished when in 1998
the National Marine Fisheries Service won a share of an indigenous
subsistence quota claimed by Siberian native whalers, and then
allocated it to the Makah, even though the Makah had not killed
whales for food in 70 years.
National Marine Fisheries Service spokesperson Brian Gorman
said in November 2001 that NMFS would seek to renew the Makah quota
through 2007 at the May 2002 IWC meeting in Japan.
The Makah killed one whale in May 1999, but–having little
taste for the meat themselves and no way to sell it–have not made a
sustained effort to hunt whales since. In June 2001, however, some
Makah butch-ered a 20-foot gray whale who ran aground on a beach
within Olympic National Park.
Since then, the National Marine Fisheries Service has
authorized the Makah to kill gray whales either at sea or in the
Strait of San Juan de Fuca, and to kill them any time they can find
them. Under the original authorization, the Strait of San Juan de
Fuca was off limits, and the whaling season was open only from
November to June.
The rules were relaxed under a new environmental assessment
produced by the National Marine Fisheries Service in response to a
1997 lawsuit by former U.S. Member of the House of Representatives
Jack Metcalf and a coalition of anti-whaling organizations. Trying
again, the Fund for Animals, Humane Society of the U.S., and
Friends of the Gray Whale charged in a suit filed on January 10 that
the new assessment is inadequate.
Makah fisheries manager David Sones admitted to Associated
Press writer Luis Cabrerra that the cutter the tribe seeks would be
used to locate gray whales.
“We would be looking at their movements, their general
health–a lot of the general science that is needed to better
understand the species,” Sones said. “We would be finding a way to
plug into what’s existing as far as research, and basically be
exercising our co-management responsibilities.”
Wrote Cabrerra, “According to the tribe’s budget request,
studies done with the vessel would help the Makah to fight
anti-whaling lawsuits and allow tribal members to participate on
International Whaling Commission scientific committees.”
Responded Sandra Abels, president of U.S. Citizens Against
Whaling, “We have said all along that the tribe intends to step up
their ‘cultural’ whaling, and to include other species. Now it
appears that they want the U.S. government to pay for it.”
The cutter the Makah would prefer, built by Textron Marine
Systems of New Orleans, would cost $1.2 million, and would be the
biggest item in a $1.9 million budget request made to the National
Marine Fisheries Service. Two alternate choices would cost about a
third as much.
Any of the new vessels could probably outrun and outdistance
the boats used by anti-whaling activists during the 1998-1999 effort
to keep the Makah from killing a whale. The fastest of those boats
with significant range was the former U.S. Coast Guard patrol vessel
Sirenian, belonging to the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, and
most recently in service against marine poachers around the Galapagos
Islands of Ecuador.
Indigenous subsistence whaling quotas are also issued to
tribes in Alaska and Nunavut, the native-controlled northern part of
Canada, authorizing them to kill highly endangered bowhead
whales–including bowheads from the eastern Arctic population, now
down to as few as 200 members.
The Inuit community at Clyde River, Canadian Wildlife
Service, and Nunavut government in mid-2001 agreed to do studies
financed by the World Wildlife Fund toward establishing a bowhead
sanctuary within Igaliqtuuq, also called Isabella Bay, but the
sanctuary is not likely to be officially desigated for at least
The Clyde River Inuit have reportedly sought to protect the
Igaliqtuuq bowheads for more than 10 years, but have not had
cooperation from the other parties.
Narwhals and belugas are not protected by the International
Whaling Commission–and the outcome of attempted indigenous
self-regulation so far has not been good. The Canada/Greenland Joint
Commis-sion on Conservation and Management of Narwhal and Beluga
reported in September 2001 that while the populations of both have
declined about 25% to 30% since the 1950s, the numbers killed have
Explained Denise Rideout of the Nunatsiaq News, serving
Nunavut, “In 1999 the annual quota of 50 narwhal was lifted and
replaced by a community-based management system. Under that system,
the Qikiqtarjuaq Hunters and Trappers Association is to keep a close
watch to ensure that the stock is not jeopardized. But in fall 2000
the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans shut down the hunt a
week before it was scheduled to end,” after 127 narwhal were killed
and landed, 40 were killed but sank before recovery, and 79 were
wounded but escaped.
“If we don’t have any quotas, how could we be
overharvesting?” Rideout said one hunter asked.
The fall 2001 narwhal hunt apparently proceeded without
incident–or at least without adverse publicity, as it was upstaged
by a similar attempt to transfer responsibility for managing the
beluga hunt to the Hunters and Trappers Association.
First the Hunters and Trappers Association jacked the quota
up from 240 belugas to 370. Then the villages of Quaqtaq and
Salluit, with quotas of 30 belugas each, killed 37 and 43,
respectively, before the season even officially opened. By the end
of the season, Quaqtaq had killed 59 and Salluit 54. Another
village, Puvirnituq, with a quota of 25, killed 49.
Wrote Jane George of the Nunatsiaq News, “Preliminary
figures furnished by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans indicate
that 371 beluga were killed in 2001, just one more animal than the
plan allows.” However, George continued, “These figures may be
inaccurate due to under-reporting. For example, the reported
harvest in the beluga-rich community of Ivujivik was 13 animals–an
unbelievably low number.”
Now Nunavut is pursuing self-regulation of polar bear
hunting. Nunavut government biologist Stephen Atkinson reported in
January 2002 that there are now 1,500 polar bears in the Gulf of
Boothia, up from 900 found by the most recent previous survey.
Nunavut sustainable development minister Olayuk Akesuk said that
Nunavut would soon apply to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for an
exemption from the Marine Mammal Protection Act which would allow
U.S. hunters to import trophies from polar bears shot in the Boothia
Atkinson found only 284 polar bears in the M’Clintock Channel
region. In October 2001 the Fish and Wildlife Service issued a
permanent rule prohibiting polar bear trophy imports from the
M’Clintock Channel. Hunters have been killing close to 10% of the
M’Clintock Channel polar bear population per year since 1993.
Local indigenous self-regulation of beluga whale hunting in
the Cook Inlet of Alaska brought a similar fiasco. The Cook Inlet
beluga population fell from about 1,300 to fewer than 350 by 1998.
Former subsistence whaler Joal Blatchford and a coalition of
conservation groups sought a federal endangered species listing for
the belugas, but the National Marine Fisheries Service opted to
continue listing them as merely “depleted,” under the Marine Mammal
Protection Act, which affords less stringent protection. Blatchford
et al appealed unsuccessfully to the U.S. District Court in
Washington D.C., and are now pursuing a further appeal to the U.S.
Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
Two recent precedental rulings have increased the ability of
wildlife agencies to stop overhunting by members of indigenous tribes
who claim to be exercising treaty rights.
In the U.S., the Washington State Supreme Court held
unanimously on January 10 that a prior conviction for a related
offense in a tribal court does not preclude a state prosecution. The
verdict came in response to an appeal by alleged jacklighter Anthony
Moses Sr., of the Tulalip. Accused of wounding several cow elk in
February 1998 and leaving them to die, Moses pleaded guilty in a
tribal court and paid a fine of $2,500. He then claimed he was
unconstitutionally subjected to double jeopardy when convicted of
four offenses pertaining to the same incident in Cowlitz county
court, and fined $11,210.
In Canada, the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal ruled a few days
later that a provincial anti-jacklighting law is a “reasonable
limitation” on subsistence hunting rights.
“There was clearly insufficient evidence to establish that
night hunting was integral to the distinctive Mi’kmaq culture,”
wrote Justice Elizabeth Roscoe for a three-member panel.
The verdict restored the jacklighting conviction of Allison
Bernard Jr., son of former Eskasoni band chief Allison Bernard, who
was allegedly caught in the act of spotlighting deer in November 27.
Millbrook band chief Lawrence Paul told Andrea MacDonald of
the Halifax Daily News that he expects the Nova Scotia verdict to be
overturned eventually by the Supreme Court of Canada.