Deciding strike/catch limits
The Commission receives the reports from its Scientific Committee and its sub-committee on aboriginal subsistence whaling and uses those as the basis for its discussions of the strike and catch limits (see below).
Scientific advice on the sustainability of proposed hunts is provided by the IWC’s Scientific Committee and especially its standing working group on aboriginal subsistence whaling (SWG on the AWMP)
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The SWG on the AWMP was established in 1995. Its task is to develop long-term methods of providing scientific advice to the Commission on safe catch limits for aboriginal subsistence whaling operations that take into account scientific uncertainty and meet the Commission’s management objectives. Its reports are published each year in the Journal of Cetacean Research and Management.
Procedures to provide long-term advice have already been developed for bowhead whales hunted by the USA and Russia (adopted by the Commission in 2002) and for gray whales taken by Russia and potentially also by the USA (adopted by the Commission in 2004). A safe procedure for providing advice at least for up to two ‘block’ quotas (around 10 years) for the Greenland hunts was adopted by the Commission in 2008. Work to develop long-term procedures for those hunts is underway.
The provision of scientific advice requires knowledge of the status of the populations concerned. This includes information on population identity, abundance and trends in abundance. Testing possible methods for determining catch limits that meet the Commission’s objectives is undertaken using computer simulations of whale populations in the face of hunting over a 100-year period. These simulations take into account plausible levels of uncertainty in a large number of factors including our knowledge of whale population structure, abundance and trends, historic and future catch levels, reproduction and survivorship, and environmental conditions. An important component of the SWG’s work is receiving and reviewing scientific information on these factors and ensuring that appropriate levels of uncertainty are incorporated into the testing procedure.
Not all whales struck by hunters are able to be brought ashore. As a conservative approach, it is assumed that all struck whales die although this might not be the case. The method to calculate safe catches is therefore called a ‘Strike Limit Algorithm’ or SLA. These are developed for each hunt and species. The two fully agreed SLAs thus far are known as the Bowhead SLA and the Gray Whale SLA.
Although SLAs are intended for long-term use, regular (usually 5-year) reviews are undertaken to ensure that no new information has been obtained that suggests that further testing is required. The last bowhead whale Implementation Review took place over two years and was completed in 2007 with most focus being on the issue of stock structure. No changes were needed to the Bowhead SLA after the review. An Implementation Review for gray whales was completed in 2010 and the Gray Whale SLA was not changed with respect to providing advice on the Russian hunt off Chukotka, Siberia. However, before providing advice for a potential hunt of gray whales by the Makah tribe on the west coast of the USA, a further Implementation Review is underway to take into account possible catching from a small feeding aggregation known as the ‘Pacific Coast Feeding Group’. It is expected to complete this work in 2011.
In particular, due to the complex stock structure issues for the whales hunted by Greenlanders (common minke, fin, bowhead and humpback whales), development of final SLAs for these hunts is also more complex. The SWG developed an ‘interim safe procedure’ that was adopted by the Committee and Commission in 2008 that is at least applicable for up to two block quotas (i.e. 10 years). A major focus of the SWG’s work at present is the development of long-term SLAs for each of the Greenlandic hunts and possibly the integration of these to provide advice for a multispecies hunt.
Member governments provide information (called ‘need statements’) to the Commission at regular intervals, usually when strike/catch limits are to be set. These explain the cultural and nutritional requirements of the native communities for whaling and whale products, which differ by area. The Commission usually receives this information through its sub-committee on aboriginal subsistence whaling (whose reports are published in the Annual Reports of the Commission - link). ‘Need statements’ take a variety of forms and a Commission working group is discussing ways to assist countries in providing this information in a more standard manner (link).
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Indigenous whaling is for cultural and subsistence reasons and products cannot be exported. Hunting methods and distribution of whale products varies according to the cultural norms of the regions involved.
Need statements provide information on cultural, subsistence and nutritional aspects of the hunt, products and distribution. Documents provided to the Commission relating to need can be found here. Need is usually expressed in terms of numbers of animals. Only the West Greenland hunt is a multi-species hunt. Need for that area is expressed in tonnes of whale products rather than numbers of animals. As catch limits must be set in numbers of strikes/landings, then the number of tonnes must be converted to numbers of animals of the different species. In 2009, a special scientific group was established to look into this matter and its report, which also provided information on the nature of the Greenlandic hunts, can be found here.
The Commission integrates the scientific, cultural and nutritional information to decide upon strike limits. It has agreed to pay special attention to reaching decisions on indigenous whaling by consensus but it is not always the case that it succeeds. It discussions are published in the Annual Reports of the Commission (link).The strike/catch limits (see below) form part of the Schedule of the Commission and thus require a ¾ majority of those voting yes or no to pass if consensus cannot be reached.
Indigenous whaling is often carried on in difficult environments, usually in the Arctic (Chukotka, Alaska and Greenland). For this reason, weather conditions play an important role in the success of the hunt. In poor years, it may not be possible to catch the expected numbers. For this reason, the Commission allows for the hunters to ‘carry over’ some whales (or strikes) to following years, provided that the total number for the block is not exceeded. The strike and catch limits, along with other regulations such as the prohibition on the killing of calves can be found in Paragraph 13 of the Schedule. They are summarised below and the full text can be found here.
Bering-Chukchi-Beaufort Seas stock of bowhead whales (taken by native people of Alaska and Chukotka) -A total of up to 280 bowhead whales can be landed in the period 2008 - 2012, with no more than 67 whales struck in any year (and up to 15 unused strikes may be carried over each year).
Eastern North Pacific gray whales (taken by native people of Chukotka and Washington State) - A total catch of 620 whales is allowed for the years 2008 - 2012 with a maximum of 140 in any one year.
East Greenland common minke whales (taken by Greenlanders) - An annual strike limit of 12 whales is allowed for the years 2008 – 2012, with any unused quota available to be carried forward to subsequent years provided that no more than 3 strikes are added to the quota for any one year.
West Greenland bowhead whales (taken by Greenlanders) - An annual strike limit of 2 whales is allowed for the years 2008 - 2012 with an annual review by the Scientific Committee. Any unused quota can be carried forward to subsequent years so long as not more than 2 strikes are added to the quota for any one year.
West Greenland fin whales (taken by Greenlanders) - An annual strike limit of 16 whales is allowed for the years 2010 - 2012. However at the 2010 Meeting Denmark and Greenland agreed to voluntarily reduce further the catch limit for the West Greenland stock of fin whales from 16 to 10 for each of the years 2010, 2011 and 2012.
West Greenland common minke whales (taken by Greenlanders) - An annual strike limit of 178 whales is allowed for the years 2010 - 2012 with an annual review by the Scientific Committee. Any unused quota can be carried forwards so long as no more than 15 strikes are added to the quota for any one year.
West Greenland humpback whales (taken by Greenlanders) – An annual strike limit of 9 whales is allowed for the years 2010-2012 with an annual review by the Scientific Committee. Any unused quota can be carried forwards so long as not more than 2 strikes are added to the quota for any one year.
Humpback whales taken by St Vincent and The Grenadines - For the seasons 2008-2012 the number of humpback whales to be taken shall not exceed 20.
Member governments with subsistence hunts must report catch and biological information to the Commission.
|Click here for a list of aboriginal subsistence catches taken since 1985
Animal welfare issues
The Commission and the hunters are concerned to minimise the suffering of hunted animals whilst ensuring the safety of the hunters and maintaining the cultural links between hunters and animals. Considerable improvements have been made to the hunts in recent years and the Commission receives regular information and shares expertise on hunting techniques through its working group on whale killing methods and related animal welfare issues and through specialist workshops.
|Click here for more information on whale killing methods and associated welfare issues