Even while Eskimo whalers are being questioned by a federal grand jury in Anchorage on alleged violations of bowhead whale hunting quotas, federal agencies here are deciding how many whales each Arctic Slope village will be allowed to hunt for the next three years.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will mandate how many of the whales, protected as an endangered species, may be landed each year, how the whales will be allocated between Eskimo villages, and how violations of annual allocations will affect the remaining quotas.
NOAA wants suggestions on how the bowheads should be allocated among villages and years. Comments must reach the agency by Dec. 1, with the proposed rules to be released next year.
Alleged violations of the bowhead quotas by Barrow and Kaktovik villagers are the focus of the grand jury probe.
The quotas will be cut back for the next three years, to a cumulative total of 45 whales landed or 65 struck. The lower total was set this summer by the International Whaling Commission.
The federal government asked the IWC to lower the quotas so that NOAA and the Department of the Interior could study the bowheads further.
In 1980, Eskimos were allowed to hunt a total of 18 whales, or hit 26, whichever came first. According to NOAA, this is the first year the quotas have been violated.