ANCHORAGE - Eskimo subsistence hunters who depend on bowhead whales will not be stopped by the International Whaling Commission's decision to ban the hunts, according to Alaska's only congressman.
U.S. Rep. Don Young, an Alaska Republican, said Friday that, one way or another, North Slope and Western Alaska villages will continue hunting whales even though the IWC last week voted against renewing quotas for subsistence hunting of bowheads.
"Despite the actions taken by the IWC, the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission will continue their harvest under domestic regulations until this can be corrected by the IWC," Young said in a statement released by his Anchorage office.
The Alaska commission represents 7,500 Inupiat and Yupik Eskimos who share in harvests.
The United States had asked the international commission to renew a quota allowing Eskimos to hunt 55 bowhead whales over five years. The request received 32 votes in favor and 11 opposed on Friday, the final day of the meeting in Shimonoseki, Japan, short of the three-fourths majority of the IWC's 48 members needed to pass. It was an amended version of a proposal rejected by delegates Thursday.
The rejections came after the United States, Britain and other nations blocked Tokyo-led attempts to lift the IWC's ban on commercial whaling. The IWC on Thursday denied a proposal to end the 1986 ban.
Earlier in the week, Japan was denied the right to let four coastal whaling towns catch 50 minke whales from nearby waters.
Young is vice chairman of the House Resources Committee. Dave Whaley, a committee staff member, said the IWC has no power to sanction the United States if Alaska whalers ignore the ban. But he acknowledged that U.S. credibility could be questioned by other member nations if Eskimos hunt without a quota.
"Obviously, we don't want to go that route," he said. "We want to do things legally."
The IWC meets once a year. The decision could be reversed in a special meeting or by a mail ballot, Whaley said, and steps are under way to do so.
The current quota is in effect through the fall hunt and whalers would not be affected until next spring, Whaley said.
Alaskans reacted strongly to the ban on Eskimo whaling. U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski, an Alaska Republican, called the action outrageous and unacceptable. He intends to file a formal protest with the IWC.
"Subsistence whaling certainly is not a threat to the growing number of bowhead whales, but its absence is a threat to a centuries-old lifestyle and to the well-being of Alaska Eskimos," Murkowski said.
Gov. Tony Knowles said, "I intend to express Alaska's outrage over this matter to Secretary of State Colin Powell after first consulting with the whaling captains of the North Slope."
George Ahmaogak, a whaling captain and mayor of the North Slope Borough, urged the 10 villages that make up the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission to remain calm.
Ahmaogak, who landed a whale earlier this month, said the Eskimo commission will work with the U.S. Department of Commerce to ensure protection of bowhead hunts.