Japan's whaling decision could affect Alaska Native whalers

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) — Japan's decision to leave the International Whaling Commission could have consequences on subsistence whaling by Alaska Natives.

Japan announced last month that it's leaving the commission to resume commercial whaling for the first time in 30 years, Alaska's Energy Desk reported Friday.

The international commission banned commercial whaling in the 1980s as the whale population dwindled.

"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 international commission sets the quota for subsistence whaling in Alaska.

Support for Alaska Native whalers could diminish if other countries follow Japan's example and leave the international commission, said Jessica Lefevre, a lawyer for the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission.

The commission approved a rule change last year that made the renewal of aboriginal subsistence whaling automatic under certain conditions. Japan's absence on the commission could make that rule change less secure, Lefevre said.

"The main vulnerability for us is that automatic renewal could be challenged at some point in the future if the . balance of power within the IWC, given Japan's departure, shifts more in the direction of the anti-whaling coalition," Lefevre said.

Following the commercial whaling ban, Japan switched to what it calls research whaling. Japan now plans to end the much-criticized practice, but it intends to allow commercial hunts in its territorial waters and its 200-mile (323-kilometer) exclusive economic zone along its coasts.

The Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission plans to work with the U.S. and other countries on the commission to try to find a path forward that preserves Japan's membership, Hopson said.