Subject: IWC: U.S. stirs controversy with wh (fwd)

Mike Williamson (
Thu, 23 Oct 1997 15:26:52 -0400 (EDT)

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Date: Thu, 23 Oct 97 02:50:00 GMT 
Subject: U.S. stirs controversy with wh

U.S. stirs controversy with whale hunt request

    By Christine Tierney
     MONACO (Reuters) - The United States, one of the toughest
critics of whaling, stirred controversy Tuesday with a plea to
let a tribe of native Americans kill grey whales.
     The request, which is expected to come before the
International Whaling Commission annual meeting here Wednesday,
has dismayed environmentalists and some allies who say the Makah
tribe from the western state of Washington stopped whaling
decades ago and should not be allowed to resume.
     The IWC allows subsistence hunting by indigenous people who
show that they have traditionally hunted whales and need the
     Alaskan natives may capture 51 rare bowhead whales, or wound
as many as 66 in the process, under IWC rules.
     The United States is trying to secure a quota of five grey
whales a year for the Makah, who number around 2,000, to fulfil
an old treaty obligation to the tribe.
     "This is subsistence hunting. It's part of away of life
that holds this tribe together," said Will Martin, acting U.S.
commissioner to the IWC.
     Around 21,000 grey whales live in the eastern Pacific,
according to IWC estimates, and the species was recently removed
from the U.S. list of endangered animals.
     But environmental groups say the U.S. request could set a
worrying precedent and trigger an avalanche of new subsistence
whaling requests encouraged by the whaling nations.
     "The Makah do not meet the criteria for the approval of
aboriginal subsistence quota. They have not gone whaling, relied
on whale meat as a dietary staple, or maintained any cultural
dependence on whales in more than 70 years," said Betsy Dribben
of the Humane Society International.
     David Sones, a Makah fisheries expert who came to the IWC
meeting to lobby for the whaling rights, said no one in the
tribe had ever hunted whale. "The last hunters passed in the
last 15 to 20 years," he told Reuters.
     "But the whaling songs and prayers were held on to by some
families, and those families are giving advice," he said.
     The United States first put in the request in 1996 but
withdrew it last year after Australia, Britain and other
countries questioned the Makahs' need to hunt whales.
     The plan has also been challenged in U.S. court by
environmental groups, but U.S. delegates said Washington feels
bound by the terms of an 1855 treaty.
     The Makah lost nearly all their land under the treaty with
the U.S. government but were assured the right to hunt whales.
     They plan to hunt the 8-ton whales much as their ancestors
did, in 30-foot cedar canoes, but will take along rifles to
fulfil IWC rules that whales be killed as quickly as possible.
     The U.S. delegation may avoid a bruising fight by pooling
its aboriginal subsistence request with Russia's. "There is an
ongoing discussion with the Russians," Martin said.
     Russia has an annual quota of 135 gray whales, expected to
rise to 140 this year, but Russians may notkill bowhead whales
although its natives would like to.
     The United States may seek five gray whales from the Russian
quota and give up five bowheads from the Alaskan natives' quota.
     "The IWC's preferred alternative is for the two countries
to get together to work out a total quota that we would then
share," Martin said.