Alaska’s subsistence whaling community gained a significant victory Wednesday at the International Whaling Commission’s annual meeting in Brazil, with the approval of a measure which would allow whalers to automatically receive new quotas.

Sen. Dan Sullivan said in a statement that IWC delegates not only approved renewal of the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission’s bowhead whale quota for seven more years, but also “the automatic renewal of its whaling quota as long as harvests remain sustainable.”

"This is a momentous day for all those who reside on the North Slope and Bering Strait regions and I share in the joy that is undoubtedly felt today in villages from Kaktovik to Little Diomede,” Sullivan said. “Today’s decision means that the Alaska Native hunters will be able to continue their traditional cultural practice and provide food security for generations to come.”

AEWC leadership also hailed the decision, saying it laid the groundwork for bowhead harvests “in perpetuity” rather than requiring subsistence whalers to seek new quotas from the IWC every few years.

“This is a great achievement for our people,” said AEWC Vice Chaiman Crawford Patkotak, a member of the U.S. delegation. “We praise God for making this possible and we thank the U.S. Delegation, Ryan Wulff, Dr. Mike Tillman, Dr. Greg Donovan of the IWC Secretariat, Mayor Brower, and the many people who have supported us. I especially want to thank Jacob Adams of the Barrow Whaling Captains’ Association for his wisdom and years of persistence on our behalf.”

Under the AEWC’s current bowhead quotas for 2013 through 2018, shared by Alaska and Chukotka whalers, hunters can land up to 336 whales during that time period. That quota is up from the 280 whales those groups were allowed to land from 2008 through 2012, a figure which represented 1 percent or less of the bowhead population.

Delegates also increased the number of unused harpoon strikes which can be transferred to subsequent years, according to the AEWC, potentially easing future hunts.

Sullivan thanked the State Department and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for their assistance, as well as Alaskan whaling captains like North Slope Borough Mayor Harry Brower who also attended the conference.

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