General information

The Alaska Beluga Whale Committee was formed in 1988 (Adams et al. 1993) and is comprised of hunters, managers, and scientists.

ABWC goals:

  • 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 By-Laws 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.”

In January 2020 the Alaska SeaLife Center presented ABWC with a 2020 Alaska Ocean Leadership Marine Research Award. This award is given annually to individuals and organizations that have made significant contributions to the awareness and sustainability of the state’s marine resources.

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!

ABWC History

As of 2021, there has been 34 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 By-Laws

ABWC Management Plan

ABWC/NMFS Co-management Agreement

Committee Members

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.

Executive Committee:

Tom Gray, Chairman (Council/Nome)
Marvin Okitkun, Vice Chairman (Kotlik)
Kathy Frost, Secretary
Billy Adams, Member-at-Large (Utqiagvik)
Cyrus Harris, Member-at-Large (Kotzebue)

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:

Partnerships (Also Voting Members of the ABWC)

North Slope Borough Department of Wildlife Management
NSB-DWM contact: John Citta

Alaska Department of Fish & Game
ADF&G contacts: Lori Quakenbush and Anna Bryan

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

More Information on Belugas


Banner photo credit: Leslie Pierce

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