Marine Mammal Commission

Commission Receives Grant to Review Co-management of Marine Mammals in Alaska

Polar bears, walruses, and other Arctic species are facing similar challenges as summer sea ice continues to retreat image

Polar bears, walruses, and other Arctic species are facing similar challenges as summer sea ice continues to retreat (National Park Service)

The Marine Mammal Commission recently received a grant award from the North Pacific Research Board to identify essential components and key impediments to effective co-management of marine mammals in Alaska. The overall goal of this project is to strengthen relationships and support co-management to improve the conservation of marine mammals in a region where they provide food security for Alaska Natives and are also of critical ecological, social, and economic importance.

Project Summary

Co-management of Alaska marine mammals is a key provision of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). Under the authority of Section 119 of the MMPA, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) can enter into cooperative agreements with Alaska Native organizations (ANOs) to manage marine mammals harvested by Alaska Natives for subsistence and cultural purposes.

Project Objectives

  • Develop a working definition of co-management under Section 119 that is acceptable to all ANOs and federal agency co-management partners.
  • Identify important characteristics of, and major impediments to, effective co-management through a review of existing cooperative agreements and discussions with co-management partners and community members.
  • Engage co-management partners in a self-evaluation of their respective roles and responsibilities in implementing effective co-management relationships.
  • Provide recommendations for improving co-management relationships that account for the constraints of available resources and based on identified characteristics and impediments.
  • Create guidelines to aid in the creation of improved or new co-management agreements.

Project Timeline

January 2018 – March 2019

Of the cooperative agreements established between ANOs and agencies, upon which co-management relationships are built, some have been more effective than others. A preliminary analysis suggests that the most effective agreements are those that emphasize strong communication between partners, agreement on information to be used in management decisions (stock assessments, harvest data, indigenous knowledge), and measures to resolve conflicts.

The primary goal of this project is to identify characteristics that would increase the effectiveness of co-management under Section 119. To do this, we will work with ANO and federal agency co-management partners to develop a mutually agreed-upon working definition of co-management. We will then review existing cooperative agreements to identify commonalities and differences and identify essential components of, and key impediments to, effective co-management relationships.

Concurrently, we will assemble a Steering Committee of Alaska Natives and federal resource managers to identify cooperative agreements for further review that represent a diversity of marine mammal species and regions. The Steering Committee will identify key stakeholders knowledgeable in co-management and subsistence activities who can share their perspectives on effective co-management. We will compile and synthesize the information collected and, in conjunction with our review of cooperative agreements and with consideration of resource constraints, develop recommendations for enhancing the effectiveness of co-management relationships and, ultimately, improving the conservation of marine mammals.

Background

Walruses group and ‘head bob’ to investigate unknown disturbances such as predators or humans.

The 1994 amendments to the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) established Section 119 to enhance cooperative efforts to improve the conservation and management of marine mammals that are harvested by Alaska Natives for subsistence. Through Section 119, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) were encouraged to enter into cooperative agreements with Alaska Native organizations (ANOs) for the co-management of subsistence use of marine mammal species. The goal of Section 119 is to conserve marine mammals and provide co-management of marine mammals through a cooperative approach.

In 2008, the Marine Mammal Commission conducted a workshop to assess progress in co-management since the enactment of the 1994 MMPA amendments. In the time leading up to that workshop, ten cooperative agreements had been established between FWS or NMFS and ANOs, covering twelve marine mammal species. The agreements reflect a diversity of approaches to co-management: regional versus species-based, single species versus multiple species, and single tribe/village versus multiple tribes and regions. The 2008 review identified four themes critical to effective co-management of marine mammals:

  • trust between partners
  • the need for ANO capacity building
  • the need for funding and accountability, and
  • the recognition that Alaska Native subsistence culture faces enormous threats from climate change.
Listening Session in Nome, Alaska

Marine Mammal Commission 2016 Listening Session in Nome, Alaska

During its 2016 listening sessions in Utqiaġvik (Barrow), Kotzebue, and Nome, the Commission heard from community members that the quality of relationships between co-management partners had declined due to growing dissatisfaction with the co-management process and lack of adequate funding and other resources for implementing cooperative agreements. At a joint meeting with the Indigenous Peoples Council for Marine Mammals (IPCoMM) at the end of the 2016 listening sessions, IPCoMM recommended that the Commission, in coordination with ANOs and federal agency co-management partners, facilitate a review of marine mammal co-management. This project was developed in response to that recommendation, and is being conducted with the support of IPCoMM and its ANO members.

Principal Investigators

Funding for this project is provided by the North Pacific Research Board