whale is a dead whale. It doesn't care who killed it or why
or for what reasons. All it knows is that it is dead.
that, it has been more than a little disconcerting to listen
to the political spin that has come in the wake of a decision
by the International Whaling Commission to ban Alaska Natives
from hunting bowhead whales.
to impose such a ban was led by Japan, which has seen its
whaling proposals blocked by the IWC for decades.
whalers want to kill, cut up and sell some minke whales, of
which there are many. Eskimo whalers here want to kill, cut
up and pass around bowhead whales, which are said to be endangered.
of Alaska politicians have lined up to agree the former is
bad, but the latter is good, because the intentions of our
whalers are more noble. We've now all heard about how Alaska
Natives have been killing whales for 4,000 years.
As if the Japanese just started whaling yesterday.
is they've been whaling for generations, and they are as deeply
tied to whaling as anyone in Alaska.
reminded here of how former Daily News editor Howard Weaver
used to think I was too insensitive to the "lifestyle"
of Cook Inlet commercial fishermen under attack from sport
and subsistence fishermen.
millions of Southcentral Alaska salmon return to Cook Inlet
each year, there are never enough to go around. Human nature
is that everyone wants as much as he can get.
gillnetters want as many as possible because that is how they
make a living. Anglers want as many as possible in the Kenai
River because that just makes the fishing better, and the
better the fishing the more fun for any individual anglers.
Subsistence - or "personal-use," if you want to
call them that -- dipnetters want enough to feed their families
through the winter.
face of it, that latter might not sound like much, but if
you figure these salmon will attract 20,000 or 30,000 people
to the Kenai, with each expecting to put away 20 to 50 salmon
for the winter, you're looking at a 400,000- to 1.5 million-salmon
bite out of the shared pie.
a big bite.
always felt sorry for the commercial fishermen of Cook Inlet
because of this, but never sorry enough to think they should
be allowed to catch so many salmon that the recreational fishery
that supports all those Kenai tourist businesses, not to mention
my angling, went to pot. Never bad enough that I didn't figure
I, like thousands of other Alaskans, should be able to dipnet
myself some salmon to eat.
this make me greedy? I suppose so. We're all greedy to greater
or lesser degrees. It is the nature of survival. But I could
always think myself less greedy -- and thus nobler -- than
the commercial fishermen of Cook Inlet, a whaling captain
in Barrow, an Anchorage attorney, a crewman on a Japanese
whale boat in the North Pacific Ocean, a professional politician
like Gov. Tony Knowles, or the goofball outdoor editor at
some Podunk newspaper.
you do is a big part of who you are.
at least, seem to have some understanding of this. They relented
on their stand against Alaskans whaling for endangered bowheads.
They apparently decided that even though they can't whale,
it is unfair for them to participate in the unnecessary and
unwarranted punishment of other whalers. They have shown far
more compassion than anyone in Alaska.
leaders continue to stick to the position that there are somehow
differences between dead Japanese whales and dead Alaska whales
because we kill ours for "subsistence" -- the Holy
Grail of wildlife and fisheries management in this state.
is, as all the anthropologists agree, a socio-economic system.
It is an old and inefficient system. It is a system that can
make it difficult for an Alaska Native in Anchorage to obtain
fresh whale meat.
long abandoned subsistence in favor of that socio-economic
system we know as capitalism. It is simply more efficient.
Capitalism makes it possible, or should, for someone in Tokyo
to go to the fish mart and buy the whale meat she ate as child.
At the same time, it allows, or should, for a whaler on the
northern islands to obtain some cash so he can buy the equipment
that makes his whaling, and his life, easier and more efficient.
the whales, they don't care which system drives the whalers.
They are as dead when killed by a subsistence whaler as when
killed by a commercial whaler.
rights activists do, of course, draw a distinction. They have
simple motives. It is easier to go after commercial whalers
as "greedy." The "greedy" people who get
money when dead whales go from a whaling ship to someone's
mouth have a bigger public relations problem than Alaska Natives
who can claim 4,000 years of whale meat going straight from
the kill site to someone's mouth.
mind -- given the economic realities of the moment - that
there might actually be unemployed whalers in Japan who have
a greater need to kill plentiful minke whales than comfortably
well-off Native oil field workers on the North Slope who want
to kill endangered bowhead whales mainly to obtain community
thing is that Alaskans have ignored all of this. At a time
when we should be part of a drive to push the IWC to begin
managing whales on the science of sustained yield instead
of the politics of animal rights, the state's political leaders
continue to push some myth about how a dead whale off Alaska's
coast is somehow different than a dead whale off Japan's coast.
of them ever stop to think that when the people who simply
don't like whaling in any shape or form by anyone finally
finish off the Japanese, Alaska whalers might, just might,
anyone think that, in the end, the people offended by the
sight of a bloody carcass really care who killed the whale?
editor Craig Medred can be reached at email@example.com.