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The Alaska Beluga Whale Committee was formed in 1988 (Adams et al. 1993) and is comprised of hunters, managers, and scientists.
The goals for ABWC are:
- Maintain a healthy beluga whale resource for subsistence use and public enjoyment by future generations
- Encourage the safe and efficient harvest, processing, and use of beluga whales; reduce the number of struck
- and lost whales through regional management plans.
- Ensure that belugas are used as fully as possible in a non-wasteful manner.
- Obtain accurate harvest information and biological samples from each region.
- Educate and promote understanding about beluga issues among users, resource managers, and other interested groups.
- Obtain biological information and traditional knowledge necessary for sound management and conservation of beluga whales.
- Oversee enforcement of regional management plans and hunting guidelines, and promote enforcement of habitat protection laws.
The ABWC Bylaws and Management Plan were adopted in 1989, revised in 1995 and accepted by tribal organizations in 1996 and 1997.
The Cooperative Agreement for the co-management of the western Alaska Beluga Whales was signed with NOAA Northwest Marine Fisheries
Service (NMFS) in 1999. The AWBC co-manages beluga stocks in western and northern Alaska.
On Earth Day, April 22, 2002, ABWC received a NOAA Environmental Hero Award for their "conservation and responsible management of
beluga whales since 1988." See the NOAA Fisheries News Release for more information on this award.
How does this co-management committee work?
- Hunters collect samples scientists cannot get
- Scientists get results back to ABWC
- Hunters and scientists share their knowledge about belugas
- Hunters contribute harvest information
- Scientists help discuss safe harvest levels
- Hunters and scientists work together to catch and tag belugas
- Most importantly, all members respect each other and their world views,
- share skills and learn from each other, and concentrate on the goal of keeping belugas healthy!
A little history:
- As of 2012, there has been 25 years of cooperation among hunters, managing agencies and scientists! The first meeting was in Fairbanks on March 4, 1988. Eighteen people were present including hunters from Point Lay, Kotzebue, Tyonek, Bethel, Togiak, Buckland, Nome and Point Hope. There were also managers and scientists from the Inuvialuit Game Council, Department of Fisheries and Oceans (Canada), North Slope Borough, ADF&G and NOAA-NMFS. All attendees were interested in belugas and wanted them to stay healthy.
- As of 1988, the information known about belugas was minimal: some research on salmon predation; some information on teeth, reproductive tracts, stomachs. There were no good abundance estimates, satellite tags didn't exist, and harvest data was not systematically collected. Issues of interest to those at the first meeting were: 1) stock identification and abundance, 2) identifying declines in some areas, 3) effects of high seas fisheries and other human activities, 4) struck and lost rates, 5) commercial sale in Cook Inlet, and 6) the desire to have a co-management agreement.
- The first meetings were funded by the North Slope Borough (NSB). The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) funded meetings and harvest studies from 1989-1992. Congressional funds were allocated through NOAA from 1992-2001 and a line item was added to NOAA's budget for FY2002-08. Since 2011, funds have been available by proposal through NOAA and other funds have been provided by the NSB, NMFS, ADF&G and the communities for salaries, administrative support, aerial surveys, satellite tagging, harvest monitoring, contaminant studies, genetics studies, IWC reports, traditional knowledge studies, and other activities. The ABWC currently operates on approximately $200,000 per year.
ABWC-NMFS Co-Management Agreement (User friendly version)
The membership of the ABWC is made up of representatives from approximately 30 communities that harvest belugas in the following regions: North Slope, Chukchi Sea, Kotzebue Sound, Norton Sound, Yukon Delta, Kuskokwim, and Bristol Bay. The North Slope Borough (NSB), the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) and NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA-NMFS) are also members. The ABWC does not include Cook Inlet. Here are the past ABWC Officers since 1988. Here are the regional delegates and attendees at the 2018 ABWC Meeting.
Tom Gray, Chairman (Council/Nome)
Albert Simon, Vice Chairman (Hooper Bay)
Kathy Frost, Secretary
Marvin Okitkun, Member-at-Large (Kotlik)
Jerry Ivanoff, Member-at-Large (Unalakleet)
Villages currently represented are as follows:
- North Slope:
- Point Hope
- Point Lay
- Kotzebue Sound:
- Norton Sound:
- Saint Michael
- Yukon Delta:
- Hooper Bay
- Mountain Village
- Nunam Iqua
- Pilot Station
- Pitka's Point
- Saint Mary's
- Scammon Bay
- Toksook Bay
- Bristol Bay:
- South Naknek
North Slope Borough Department of Wildlife Management
NSB-DWM contact: Robert Suydam
Alaska Department of Fish & Game
ADF&G contacts: Lori Quakenbush and John Citta
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) - Alaska Regional Office
NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS)
NOAA-NMFS contact: Barbara Mahoney
NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center - Marine Mammal Laboratory
NOAA-MML contact: Megan Ferguson
NMFS Regional Beluga Whales in Alaska website Information on Beluga stock Management (ESA listings, etc.), Co-Management, and Research.
Huntington, H.P. 1998. Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Beluga Whales. Cultural Survival Quarterly 22.3.
Ostertag, S.K., et al. 2018. "That's how we know they're helathy": the inclusion of traditional ecological knowledge in beluga health monitoring in ths Inuvialuit Settlement Region. Arctic Science 4:292-320. dx.doi.org/10.1139/as-2017-0050.
Banner photo credit: Leslie Pierce