International Whaling Commission has its hands full

UPDATE, Friday, June 25
“There are no winners and losers in this,” said Sir Geoffrey Palmer, New Zealand’s former prime minister. “It ain’t over til it’s over, and even then it ain’t over. There will be a pause. We will resume discussions about this next year,” he told The Associated Press.

As the IWC meeting ended today, Greenland’s native population was granted permission to hunt a few humpback whales for the next three years, expanding the list of species the Greenlanders are allowed to kill under the license of subsistence hunting.
—–
UPDATE, Wednesday, June 23
Whaling moratorium talks break down — so whaling nations will continue to set their own limits. Changes in the governance of the International Whaling Commission will be considered. See report in Reuters.
—–
UPDATE, Tuesday, June 22
A Norwegian delegate to the International Whaling Commission, Karsten Klepsvick, told Reuters reporters today that the compromise being debated behind closed doors will fail:

“As we can see it today, we do not believe these negotiations will succeed. There are at least eight, ten stumbling blocks, but the main stumbling block is that those who are against whaling seem to be willing to accept nothing but nil (quotas), and we cannot accept that.”
—–

The future of the International Whaling Commission — and perhaps even the survival of certain whale species — rests on decisions being made this week in Morocco.

While I have no personal insight into this story, I think it’s worth summarizing activities swirling around the meeting that began today. If you haven’t heard, a controversial proposal by IWC Chairman Cristian Maquieira would lift the ban on whaling for Japan, Iceland and Norway. In return, the three countries would come back into the fold of the IWC, with new quotas officially imposed by the commission to reduce recent harvest levels.

Maquieira says his plan could save thousands of whales a year. (Check out an article Maquieira wrote for the BBC or read a press release (PDF 40 kb) issued by the IWC.) As the annual meeting of the IWC got under way today, Maquiera was not present due to illness, according to reporter Arthur Max of the Associated Press.

Deputy Chairman Anthony Liverpool opened the meeting then quickly moved the discussions behind closed doors for two days of negotiations among the strident anti-whaling countries as well as those that insist that whaling is a long-held cultural right. It’s in those meetings that things may come to a head.

Currently, Japan, Iceland and Norway set their own whaling quotas. Japan claims an exemption in the IWC Charter that allows for the taking of whales for scientific research — even though nearly all the whale meat ends up in the commercial market. Iceland and Norway operate under a process that allows formal objections to the whaling moratorium.

In a surprise move leading up to today’s meeting, Greenpeace, the Pew Environment Group and the World Wildlife Fund said in a joint statement (PDF 420 kb) that a compromise on quotas is possible but only if six essential elements are met:

  1. End all whaling in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary near Antarctica.
  2. All whale products must be consumed in the country for which the hunt was authorized.
  3. Catch limits must be calculated by the IWC’s scientific committee to assure appropriate management procedures.
  4. Harvest of threatened, endangered or vulnerable species would not be allowed.
  5. Scientific whaling beyond the limits set by the IWC would not be allowed.
  6. Contracting governments must agree not to operate under objections to the agreement as originally allowed in the IWC Charter.

Meanwhile, other environmental groups argue that it is wrong to kill whales and that any compromise serves to reward the whaling countries for bad behavior. As Nikki Entrup of Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society told John Vidal of The Guardian:

“It would be a fundamental mistake now to reward those three whaling nations who have continued to ignore the international consensus on commercial whaling and are opposed by millions of people around the world. What kind of message does that give out to countries like Korea who used to whale? I urge Greenpeace to withdraw their position. They want to do the right thing in principle but more whales are killed in the northern hemisphere than in the south.”

Japan has hinted that it might pull out of the IWC if member nations can’t abide its whaling activities. Meanwhile, Australia has filed an action against Japan in the International Court of Justice, saying Japan’s actions are a direct violation of the international whaling ban in the Southern Ocean.

International politics and intrigue run thick through this whole story. Check out last weekend’s Times of London for an investigative report accusing Japan of bribing officials of other countries to come to the IWC meeting and support whaling.

It will be interesting to see if members of the IWC can find a way to make the organization relevant again.

5 thoughts on “International Whaling Commission has its hands full

  1. UPDATE, Tuesday, June 22

    A Norwegian delegate to the International Whaling Commission, Karsten Klepsvick, told Reuters reporters today that the compromise being debated behind closed doors will fail:

    “As we can see it today, we do not believe these negotiations will succeed. There are at least eight, ten stumbling blocks, but the main stumbling block is that those who are against whaling seem to be willing to accept nothing but nil (quotas), and we cannot accept that.”

  2. UPDATE, Wednesday, June 23

    Whaling moratorium talks break down — so whaling nations will continue to set their own limits. Changes in the governance of the International Whaling Commission will be considered. See report in Reuters.

  3. UPDATE, Friday, June 25

    “There are no winners and losers in this,” said Sir Geoffrey Palmer, New Zealand’s former prime minister. “It ain’t over til it’s over, and even then it ain’t over. There will be a pause. We will resume discussions about this next year,” he told The Associated Press.

    As the IWC meeting ended today, Greenland’s native population was granted permission to hunt a few humpback whales for the next three years, expanding the list of species the Greenlanders are allowed to kill under the license of subsistence hunting.

  4. Excellent updates on this controversial topic. Other interesting notes:

    Decisions must be made as to whether “coastal” whaling is aboriginal/subsistence whaling, and will the this issue be dealt with separately from commercial quotas, or under one umbrella. The US has a very good paper on this issue, you can read it here:
    http://iwcoffice.org/_documents/commission/IWC62docs/62-29.pdf

    Denmark and the US have put forward limited quotas for indigenous subsistence whaling which can be found here
    http://iwcoffice.org/_documents/commission/IWC62docs/62-26.pdf

    The US gave their report on cetacean conservation for 2010:
    http://iwcoffice.org/_documents/commission/IWC62docs/CC-6.pdf

    However, there are other countries who are firmly against whaling, both indigenous and commercial. This will need to be worked out. In my opinion, clearly, controversial scientific permits should be dealt with first, commercial whaling second, and last on the plate would be any concerns about subsistence whaling. I think the US makes a very good point in this statement.

    As for changes in how the IWC works, this would be a good thing. Formed to conserve whales based upon science, as more and more countries joined, the IWC is now a body that makes decisions based upon politics. In 2008, Australia asked for changes to the way IWC made decisions. Now, the U.K. is stepping up, and has developed a comprehensive document addressing 33 issues the IWC must address in order to be an effective body, including Animal Welfare, an Advisory Committee, the development of Standards for the Humane Slaughter of Whales, revising the Bycatch Management Scheme and basing it upon Regional Fisheries Management Organizations, science-based climate change, and more.

    http://www.doxtop.com/browse/957e3ec6/the-international-whaling-commission—uk.aspx

    I look forward to the IWC being a more effective, science-based conservation-oriented management body. As Australia points out, “The IWC was established for both the proper conservation of whale stocks and the orderly development of a whaling industry. Yet the objectives and controls of the Commission’s current management tools are limited to adjustments in the number of whales killed in whaling operations…These tools do not include conservation and management options…”

    http://iwcoffice.org/_documents/commission/future/IWC-M08-INFO11.pdf

    If the IWC cannot effectively conserve, manage and recover whales to the point where populations can also support some type of whaling industry, then the IWC is not fulfilling its original role. It must either change, or be replaced. I look forward to those changes.

  5. For more insight into why Japan is so adamant about taking a different view on whaling, this BBK article has an interview with the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science_and_environment/10422957.stm

    And there is a non-profit organization devoted to providing information on the historical reasons behind why Japan should continue with a whaling industry of sorts (not recently updated)
    http://www.whaling.jp/english/intro.html

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