for National Geographic News
An international whaling body agreed Tuesday to allow aboriginal groups in the U.S., Russia, and the Caribbean to continue their whale-hunting traditions for at least five more years.
But the International Whaling Commission (IWC), which is meeting this week in Anchorage, Alaska, is deadlocked over a proposed expansion of the aboriginal hunt in Greenland.
IWC has acknowledged the right of aboriginal groups to hunt whales since the whaling body's creation in 1946. Quotas are awarded for five-year periods.
The hunts allow aboriginal groups to maintain centuries-long traditions of killing whales to meet cultural and subsistence needs and are largely unopposed by most government and activist groups.
"[The quotas have] always specifically been to meet subsistence needs, and it's always specifically been for aboriginal people to use," said Sue Fisher, U.S. policy director and whaling campaigner for the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society.
But Greenland's bid to increase its take of minke whales by 25 and to include 10 humpback and 2 bowhead whales for the first time is worrying, Fisher noted.
The Danish territory's delegates to the IWC meeting said the increase, which would raise the allowable catch to 740 tons of whale meat from 540 tons, is needed to supply growing demand.
Antiwhaling groups, however, say feeding demand beyond local subsistence needs amounts to a commercial hunt, which is regulated separately by the whaling body.
Fisher said 17 percent of the minke whale meat caught by Inuit hunters in Greenland is sold to a state-owned company that processes, packages, and sells the meat to supermarkets.
"IWC doesn't acknowledge that as a use of the subsistence whaling category," she said.
"That's commercialization, which is why the Greenland quota [is] pretty controversial."
The commercialization, she added, may be generating more interest in whale meat, which in turn is driving Greenland's request.
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