Subject: IWC clears way for tribe to resume whaling

Mike Williamson (
Fri, 24 Oct 1997 14:21:23 -0400 (EDT)


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Date: Fri, 24 Oct 97 12:35:00 GMT 
Subject: IWC clears way for tribe to re

IWC clears way for tribe to resume whaling

    By Christine Tierney
     MONACO, Oct 23 (Reuters) - The International Whaling
Commission (IWC) cleared the way on Thursday for a U.S. Indian
tribe to hunt grey whales in the Pacific despite strong
objections from environmental groups and several countries.
     The United States claimed a victory in the most
controversial decision at the IWC's annual meeting after member
governments approved a joint U.S.-Russian request for a
five-year quota of 620 grey whales for native hunters.
     Twenty of those whales would be allotted to the Makah tribe
from the western state of Washington. The Makah claim a
1,500-year whaling tradition and the right to hunt whale under a
treaty with the United States that dates back to 1855.
     The IWC banned commercial whaling in 1982, pending a study
of whale stocks, but allows subsistence whaling by aboriginals.
     Environmental groups and some of Washington's traditional
allies such as Australia and New Zealand argued that the Makah,
who have not hunted whales in more than 70 years, can no longer
claim to subsist on whale meat.
     They also criticised the United States for twinning its
request with that of the impoverished Chukotka Inuit of Siberia
-- known in Russia as the Chukchi -- and insisted on amending
the final text to state that the quota was for natives whose
subsistence needs had been recognised.
     "The United States does believe the Makah meet the
requirements," U.S. delegate Will Martin told reporters.
     "When the Commission adopted the quota, they gave tacit
recognition of the underlying need," he said.
     New Zealand Commissioner Jim McLay said he believed natives
should hunt whales "only when a need has been recognised, not
just put forward. I don't feel the Makah case has been made."
     IWC officials said the organisation did not pass judgment on
the Makahs' claim -- neither recognising it, nor rejecting it.
"Our main concern remains the responsibility and viability of
the (whale) stocks," said IWC chairman Peter Bridgewater.
     "Who takes them is really up to the people interested," he
     "This is one of those splendid compromises where people can
put their own interpretations," said one delegate. He said it
also avoided making a precedent.
     Other delegates said they were confident that the Makahs'
claim would be put to a harder test in the United States. Many
U.S. politicians oppose the government's decision to seek a
quota and environmental groups are challenging it in court.
     One delegate noted that while the IWC has spent nearly two
days focusing on the Makah request, the Greenlanders quietly
obtained a quota of 175 minke and 17 fin whales. "There are
more important issues at stake," he said.
     As part of the joint U.S.-Russian application, the countries
will also share a quota of bowhead whales, which the IWC has
traditionally allotted to the Alaskan Inuit, who live just
across the Bering Strait from Chukotka.
     The Chukchi, who live in desperate conditions since the
breakup of the Soviet Union, have wanted to hunt bowhead whales
and are seeking technical assistance from the Alaskan Inuit.
     The IWC agreed to a quota of 280 bowhead whales over five
years, and the Russian natives are expected to take 20.
     Both the bowhead and grey species have rallied back from
near-extinction. The IWC estimates there are around 8,000
bowhead and 21,000 grey whales.
     The Makah plan to start hunting the eight-tonne whales next
autumn in 10-metre (30-foot) cedar canoes, much as their
ancestors did.
     Marine biologist Sidney Holt, a longtime adviser to the IWC,
cautioned that the hunt would be dangerous. "It's going to be a
horrendous business, certainly for the whales and probably for
the people. Grey whales are very active in defence of