Japan’s departure from IWC may affect Native whalers in Alaska

Last month, Japan announced that they are leaving the whaling commission to return to commercial whaling since 30 years ago. Commercial whaling was banned by the international commission in the 1980s in concern for reduced whale population numbers. There is a concern that Japan’s decision may affect subsistence whaling by Alaskan Natives.

“It would be in our best interest to have Japan remain with the IWC,” said John Hopson Jr., chairman of the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission. “They were a strong ally of ours in obtaining our quota.”

The quota for subsistence whaling in Alaska is set by the international commission.

If other countries leave the international commission like Japan, support for Alaska Native whalers could diminish says Jessica Lefevre, a lawyer for the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission.

According to Lefevre, a new rule change made in 2018 makes the renewal of subsistence whaling for aboriginal people automatic under certain conditions. This could be challenged by the anti- whaling coalition more easily if more IWC members leave the commission.

Japan intends to allow commercial whale hunting in its territorial waters and its 200-mile (323-kilometer) exclusive economic zone along its coasts.

The Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission is hoping to work with Japan and other members of the commission to restore Japan’s membership according to Hopson.