Whale-sized showdown headed for Anchorage

Japan lobbies world commission to end Native hunting rights

Posted: Thursday, March 01, 2007

ANCHORAGE - Japan could try to end Alaska Native hunting rights during the International Whaling Commission meeting in Anchorage if coastal villagers in that nation are not allowed similar privileges, one American official said.

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Japan could try to solicit enough votes from members to block Alaska's North Slope and St. Lawrence Island Eskimos from hunting and killing small numbers of endangered bowhead whales, said William Hogarth, director of the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Japan wants the United States and other nations to consent to the harvest of minke whales by some of its coastal villagers, and could try to end Alaska whaling if it doesn't get its way, said Hogarth, who will chair the meeting.

But the United States doesn't support what amounts to commercial whaling and will not give consent, he said.

"What we've said is absolutely no deals here. We're not going to make a deal with you. We're not going to be blackmailed. We're not going to be held hostage," Hogarth told the Anchorage Daily News.

If Japan wants whaling quotas for its villages, it must go through the same scientific evaluation Alaska subsistence whale hunts did, Hogarth said.

The IWC, headquartered in Cambridge, England, has 73 member nations and governs the harvest of gray, sperm, blue, bowhead, minke and other large whales throughout worldwide.

There is a global ban on commercial whaling, but Japan and Iceland harvest some whales under loopholes, such as whaling for scientific research.

A few countries have IWC permission to conduct aboriginal whale hunts.

In Alaska, Native bowhead whale hunts are part of a deep subsistence tradition dating back centuries, and U.S. officials are committed to preserving that, Hogarth said.

The subsistence whaling rights expire every five years. If Japan were to be successful in blocking U.S. quotas, Alaska hunts would have to end in 2008.

The IWC in 2002 gave Alaska Eskimo crews 51 bowhead whales a year from 2003 through 2007. Bowheads can reach 60 feet and 75 tons.

To keep the Alaska subsistence whaling quotas, the United States needs three-quarters of the IWC vote. The commission has been closely split on support for whaling, and Hogarth said they are talking to numerous countries.

"Some countries that normally vote with Japan on many issues, like China and Korea, we think will vote for our hunters. But we don't know until we get there. This is an extremely important meeting," he said.

Japan long has sought an IWC quota for minke whales for four small coastal communities, where people have a deep tradition of whaling similar to Alaska's Eskimos, the Japan Whaling Association says.

The Japanese accuse the United States and antiwhaling nations of unfairly blocking small hunts in Japanese waters.

About 500 to 600 people are expected in Anchorage for the meeting. IWC committees will meet through much of May, with the commission itself convening May 28-31.

Security forces are preparing for antiwhaling protests.

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