Cetacean Society International

Whales Alive!

Vol. VII No. 1 January 1998

Passamaquoddy Harbor Porpoise Hunting

by William Rossiter, CSI President

In early October Passamaquoddy leaders met with federal officials to discuss exercising what the tribe considers a sacred right to hunt harbor porpoise in waters offshore of Maine. They have killed at least 5 animals this year as part of an ongoing battle over indigenous fishing rights. Essentially they want to fish as they wish regardless of bag limits, seasons, size restrictions, etc., and are using the porpoise kill as a leveraging point to call attention to their claims of sovereignty and salt-water fishing rights. The tribe has no specific treaty right. NMFS' official but preliminary position was that the killings were illegal, and if the Passamaquoddy want to kill porpoises, they would need to renegotiate their treaty with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The killing took place in Canadian waters limiting the possible crime to import violations. The Canadians are also investigating. The conservation issues facing harbor porpoise include entanglement in fishing nets and an often polluted coastal habitat. The species is a candidate for official listing as threatened.

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