ADVOCACY & STEWARDSHIP
Since its formation in 1977, the AEWC has advocated on behalf of the eleven whaling villages it represents to preserve the traditional subsistence hunt of the bowhead whales. Although the Alaska Native bowhead whale harvest has existed and sustained a culture for thousands of years, the fate of its future is now determined by a highly political international organization; the International Whaling Commission (IWC), of which the U.S. government is a member. The IWC is composed largely of anti-whaling countries and countries whose representatives favor whale-watching tourism. This body determines quotas on whale stocks only upon demonstration of biological sustainability and subsistence need. This burden falls on the U.S. Government and Alaska Native subsistence hunters.
The Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission (AEWC) was formed in 1977 as result of a ban imposed by the IWC on subsistence hunting of the Bering-Chukchi-Beaufort-Seas’ (BCBS) bowhead whales. This ban threatened the food security and cultural identity of Alaska Native villages reliant on the bowhead whale and was based on inaccurate science regarding the health of BCBS bowhead stock. Since its formation, the AEWC has managed the bowhead whale subsistence harvest locally, pursuant to the terms of the Cooperative Agreement with NOAA, under Section 112 (c) of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) (16 USC 1382 (c)). Through the Cooperative Agreement, the AEWC undertakes research and educational activities related to bowhead whales and the Arctic ecosystem, and advocates on behalf of the bowhead and its habitat in state, federal, and international forums, as well as with the oil and gas industry and researchers conducting work in the Arctic. It is also responsible for ensuring the hunt of the bowhead whale is conducted according to the AEWC Management Plan in a traditional, non-wasteful manner. The
AEWC Management Plan implements and enforces the requirements of the International Convention on the Regulation of Whaling, the IWC, the Whaling Convention Act, and the MMPA.
The AEWC also serves as an integral part of the United States’ efforts to carry out its international obligations as a member of the IWC. This work is a critical component of the Cooperative Agreement. The IWC requires detailed harvest-related information, information on management responses to possible infractions, regular updates on the subsistence need for bowhead whales, presentations on annual harvest reports, presentations with scientific evidence of population size, catch and population structure of the bowhead whale, presentations on weapons improvement work, and presentations on progress toward improvements in the humaneness of the hunt. The U.S. Delegation to the IWC relies on the AEWC for the collection of this data and the preparation of materials to sustain the quota. The AEWC works closely with the North Slope Borough to gather this data.
Alaska Native whaling communities have been stewards of the ocean and habitat of the bowhead whale for millennia and this stewardship remains a priority today. AEWC, originally formed to manage the bowhead whale subsistence harvest and meet obligations to the IWC, was forced in the early 1980s to expand its focus to address competition for use of the waterway by offshore oil and gas operators created by the Department of the Interior lease sales on the Beaufort Sea Outer continental shelf (OCS). This effort led to the development of the Open Water Season Conflict Avoidance Agreement (CAA).