Sullivan Applauds Subsistence Whaling Quota Renewal at IWC Meeting in Brazil

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK) today applauded the hard work of the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission (AEWC) and the entire U.S. delegation for their efforts at the 67th International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting in Florianopolis, Brazil to renew subsistence whaling quota for seven more years and to secure for the first time the automatic renewal of its whaling quota as long as harvests remain sustainable. The measure passed earlier today by a vote of 58 to 7.

“This is a momentous day for all those who reside on the North Slope and Bering Strait regions and I share in the joy that is undoubtedly felt today in villages from Kaktovik to Little Diomede,” said Senator Sullivan. “Today’s decision means that the Alaska Native hunters will be able to continue their traditional cultural practice and provide food security for generations to come.

“Importantly, the IWC has adopted an automatic renewal clause which will reauthorize current quotas – established in 1997 and endorsed by the scientific community on an annual basis – so long as the science says harvests remain sustainable,” Sullivan said. “This a huge victory for the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission, who for years has had to fight every six years to maintain their right to subsistence whale harvest.”

“I congratulate the AEWC, which, for decades, has demonstrated a commitment to science and sustainability. And I congratulate the brave Alaska delegation who so aptly represented our state’s whalers — led by North Slope Borough Mayor Harry Brower, and AEWC Vice-chair Crawford Patkotak— at the 67th International Whaling Commission meeting in Brazil,” said Sullivan. “Finally, I want to thank the members of U.S. Delegation to the IWC, ably led by U.S. Commissioner Ryan Wulff, NOAA Assistant Administrator for Fisheries Chris Oliver, and their colleagues with NOAA and the State Department, for their dedication, expertise, and countless hours of work that went into making today’s result possible.”


As the Chairman of the Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard Subcommittee – who has jurisdiction over our nations oceans, fisheries, and marine mammals, including whales –Senator Sullivan has relentlessly championed the efforts of Alaska Native whalers to subsistence harvest whales.

  • In the lead up to the IWC meeting in Brazil, Senator Sullivan kept in close communication with senior leadership at the U.S. State Department and NOAA, and sent his Legislative Director to the IWC meetings in Brazil to serve on the U.S. delegation.
  • In August, the Alaska delegation sent a letter to embassies of IWC member countries, reiterating our commitment to subsistence whaling. 
  • In July, Senator Sullivan convened a strategy meeting in the U.S. Capitol with AEWC, the State Department, and NOAA to ensure continued coordination and foster direct high level engagement. Afterwards, Senator Sullivan led a reception, hosted by the Alaska Congressional Delegation, for Ambassadors and diplomatic officials of IWC member embassies. 
  • In April 2018, Senator Sullivan alongside Senator Murkowski and Congressman Young introduced and passed out of the Senate Commerce Committee the Whaling Convention Amendments Act of 2018 – which would authorize the Secretary of Commerce to preserve the bowhead whale subsistence harvest and Alaska Native food security under U.S. law if the International Whaling Commission had failed to act on bowhead whale quota during their meetings in Brazil this week. Click here for a letter of support from the AWEC.
  • In October 2017, Senator Sullivan chaired an Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard Subcommittee hearing entitled “Exploring Native American Subsistence Rights and International Treaties,” which focused on the importance and sustainability of subsistence whaling in Alaska, and included testimony from North Slope Borough Mayor Harry Brower, Mr. John Hopson, Jr., Chairman, Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission; and Dr. Robert Suydam, Senior Wildlife Biologist, North Slope Borough. 
  • In June 2016, Senator Sullivan gave a speech on the Senate floor about Alaska’s unique whaling culture. Click here to watch.



Worldwide whale stocks are managed through the International Whaling Commission, a group of 89 countries that have ratified the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling. The Whaling Convention Act of 1949 is the relevant U.S. implementing legislation.

The Convention allows for the harvest of certain whale species for nations that certify either a cultural or subsistence need for their aboriginal population. Russia, Denmark (for Greenland), the United States, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines are those nations who currently practice Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling (ASW).

From time-to-time, the Commission renews ASW quota. However, due to increased polarization at the IWC due to unrelated disputes regarding commercial and scientific whaling, in recent years, ASW communities have seen their quota used as a bargaining chip or outright rejected—all despite no objection by the IWC’s Scientific Committee.

The aboriginal subsistence harvest in Alaska is sustainable, and non-commercial. The number of bowheads is consistently increasing and may now be at levels not seen since the dawn of the 20th Century. The International Whaling Commission has consistently certified that the biological status of our bowheads is sustainable.