September 13, 2003
The document, which can be viewed electronically online, evaluated alternative ways of managing subsistence harvest of the Cook Inlet beluga whales, while allowing for the recovery of the stock.
"Our goal is to provide a limited subsistence harvest while still promoting recovery of the whales," said Balsiger. "This EIS lays out alternative management schemes."
The EIS addresses the need for managed beluga whale subsistence hunting in Cook Inlet. It also sounds a note of caution regarding other activities that may affect beluga whales. 'The status of Cook Inlet beluga whales remains of serious concern to the National Marine Fisheries Service,' states the EIS, which goes on to report that foreseeable future development in upper Cook Inlet could affect habitat of ecological importance to Cook Inlet beluga whales.
The Cook Inlet stock of beluga whales declined by greater than 50 percent between 1994 and 1999, and, in 2000, was declared depleted under the Marine Mammal Protection Act by the NOAA Fisheries. Agency experts believe that subsistence harvest of beluga whales was the principal factor in their decline in Cook Inlet.
The most recent beluga whale population estimate in Cook Inlet is 313 animals. No beluga whales were taken in 1999 and 2000, while one beluga whale was successfully taken each year in 2001, 2002 and 2003. The preferred alternative in the Environmental Impact Statement allows a total of up to six beluga whales to be taken in four years by Alaska Native whale hunters. The six whales are allocated among hunters through co-management agreements between the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Cook Inlet Marine Mammal Council .
Since beluga whale harvest
restrictions were put in place, the severe decline has apparently
stopped, although population estimates have not been taken over
a long enough time (six years) for them to be statistically valid.
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