Alaska Beluga Whale Committee—a unique model of co-management

  • Kathryn J. Frost Alaska Beluga Whale Committee, Kailua-Kona, HI, USA
  • Tom Gray Alaska Beluga Whale Committee, Nome, AK, USA
  • Willie Goodwin, Sr. Kotzebue, AK, USA
  • Roswell Schaeffer Kotzebue, AK, USA
  • Robert Suydam Department of Wildlife Management, Utqiaġvik, AK, USA
Keywords: Subsistence, Delphinapterus leucas, collaboration, Alaska Natives


The Alaska Beluga Whale Committe (ABWC) was formed in 1988 to conserve beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas) and manage beluga subsistence hunting in western and northern Alaska in cooperation with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). When the ABWC was formed, there was no consistently funded research or management programme for belugas in Alaska, and co-management was a new concept. The ABWC brought together representatives from beluga hunting communities; federal, state, tribal and local governments; and beluga researchers to develop and implement a programme to manage belugas. With funding from NMFS and others, the ABWC has collected data necessary for informed management decisions including the following: harvest data; aerial surveys of belugas in Bristol Bay and the eastern Bering and Chukchi seas; beluga tracking studies, including training hunters to attach transmitters; a pioneering genetics study of beluga stock identity that has facilitated collection of >2000 beluga skin samples; and a genetics-based mark–recapture study to estimate beluga abundance in Bristol Bay and validate aerial survey estimates. The ABWC is currently engaged in regional management planning in Kotzebue Sound and the eastern Bering Sea. It produces results that are scientifically valid, locally accepted and cost-effective and is an example of what can be achieved when Native hunters, scientists and managing agencies respect and listen to one another and work together. However, the current NMFS co-management funding process has fundamentally altered the relationship between NMFS and ABWC, with NMFS now acting more like a funding agency than a partner.


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How to Cite
Frost, K. J., Gray, T., Goodwin, Sr., W., Schaeffer, R., & Suydam, R. (2021). Alaska Beluga Whale Committee—a unique model of co-management. Polar Research, 40(S1).

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