International Whaling Commission (IWC) has 89 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. Members of Congress have introduced measures
to advance U.S. policy within the Commission to respond to IWC actions. One
area of contention is the right of aboriginal groups to hunt whales
(sometimes referred to as indigenous whaling). Aboriginal subsistence
whaling catch limits are set by the IWC for aboriginal peoples in four
countries: the United States (bowhead and gray); Denmark (Greenland) (fin,
minke, bowhead, and humpback); Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
(humpback); and Russia (gray and bowhead).
The International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (the Convention) has
addressed aboriginal whaling since it was signed on December 2, 1946, by
the United States and 14 other countries. The Convention limits how many
bowhead or gray whales U.S. aboriginal groups may harvest by setting catch
limits for five-year periods. The current period is from 2008 through 2012.
Whaling also is restricted in the United States by three domestic laws: the
Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA); the Endangered Species Act (ESA); and
the Whaling Convention Act (WCA). The MMPA prohibits all whaling except
for subsistence use by Alaska Natives. Similarly, the ESA prohibits taking
listed whales except for subsistence use by Alaska Natives. The WCA, the
enabling act for the Convention, allows whaling by aboriginal peoples to the extent
it does not conflict with the Convention. Despite these statutory exceptions
allowing aboriginal whaling, the Secretary of Commerce can restrict such
whaling by adopting specific regulations under either the MMPA or the ESA.
Currently, only the Cook Inlet stock of beluga whales is protected under
such regulation. The Makah Tribe (in the state of Washington) is the only
non-Alaska indigenous group in the United States with the legal right to kill
whales. This right is based on treaty, but the Makah must still comply
with the MMPA by receiving a permit that allows whale harvest. Compliance
with U.S. law and the Convention determines the types and numbers of
whales and where and when they are killed.
More recent legislation regarding whaling typically is done by resolution.
Legislation proposed in the 111th and 112th Congresses addressed ending
all nonaboriginal whaling, including scientific whaling (H.Res. 714 (112th);
H.R. 2455, S. 3116 (111th)), and would have made the U.S. representative
to the IWC a federal employee (H.R. 2955 (111th)). Previous Congresses have addressed
whaling in general, and aboriginal whaling in particular. Legislative measures, primarily
in the form of concurrent resolutions, have been proposed in four categories:
protesting commercial, scientific, or community (nonaboriginal) whaling;
ensuring aboriginal whaling rights; providing a tax break for aboriginal
whaling captains; and addressing the United States’ policy at the annual
meetings of the IWC.
Date of Report: January 2, 2013
Number of Pages: 20 Order Number: R40571 Price: $29.95
For email and phone orders, provide a Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover card
number, expiration date, and name on the card. Indicate whether you want e-mail
or postal delivery. Phone orders are preferred and receive priority processing.