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Thursday, January 21, 2010

The International Whaling Convention and Legal Issues Related to Aboriginal Rights

Kristina Alexander
Legislative Attorney

The International Whaling Commission (IWC) has 88 members divided almost evenly between countries that condone whaling and those that favor whale conservation. This situation leads to contentious votes and accusations that decisions are not based on science but on politics, in particular, whether or not a country favors whaling. Congress has issued legislation to push U.S. policy onto the IWC. One area of contention is the right of aboriginal groups to hunt whales. Aboriginal subsistence whaling catch limits are set by the IWC for aboriginal peoples in four countries. Quotas for certain whales are set for the following countries: United States (bowhead and gray); Denmark (Greenland) (fin and minke); Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (humpback); and Russia (gray). 

The International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (the Convention) has addressed aboriginal whaling since it was signed December 2, 1946, by the United States and 14 other countries. Aboriginal whaling is also governed in the United States for Alaska Natives by the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) and the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The Makah Tribe (in the State of Washington) has separate legal rights to whale. Generally speaking, whaling by aboriginal peoples is allowed under U.S. law to the extent it does not conflict with the Convention. Compliance with U.S. law and the Convention depends on the types and numbers of whales and on where and when they are killed. The Convention limits how many bowhead or gray whales aboriginal groups may harvest. However, no domestic law restricts harvest numbers on whales except specific regulations under the ESA or MMPA (provided the harvest is for nonwasteful subsistence use). 

Legislation in the 111th Congress has addressed ending all non-aboriginal whaling, including scientific whaling (H.R. 2455); and would make the U.S. representative to the IWC a federal employee (H.R. 2955). Previous Congresses have addressed whaling in general, and aboriginal whaling in particular. Legislation, primarily in the form of concurrent resolutions, has been drafted in four categories: protesting commercial, scientific, or community (non-aboriginal) whaling; ensuring aboriginal whaling rights; providing a tax break for aboriginal whaling captains; or addressing the United States' policy at the annual meetings of the IWC. 

Date of Report: January 4, 2010
Number of Pages: 15
Order Number: R40571
Price: $29.95

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