Tag Archives: William Hogarth

Politics comes under fire at International Whaling Commission

The International Whaling Commission continues to be pushed and pulled, both from within the organization and from outside. Sometimes I wonder how this organization manages to keep functioning. Following a special commission meeting last week, I thought it might be worth recounting a little history and taking a few comments.

The IWC originally was set up in 1946 to determine what species of whales should be commercially harvested and to establish quotas for long-term sustainability. Many countries, including the United States, have since taken the position that whales should be protected, not killed. Some countries, however, still view sustainable whale hunting as not much different from commercial fishing, and the U.S. supports aboriginal whaling in Alaska and elsewhere in the world.

A moratorium on commercial whaling, started in 1986, remains in effect pending scientific conclusions about stock abundance, reproductive rates and other issues related to population dynamics. Because Iceland, Norway and Russia lodged formal objections to the moratorium, they are not subject to its conditions.

Meanwhile, Japan conducts whaling under special research permits issued by the government. This is one of the most contentious issues in the IWC, and Japan’s fleet of whaling ships has killed several thousand minke whales and other species in the Antarctic. (This is where Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has confronted Japanese whalers on the high seas.)

Because the IWC is voluntary and acts on consensus, its authority is limited. Delegates sometimes find themselves walking on eggshells to keep the organization from falling apart, and sometimes delegates walk out in frustration.

Last week, during the intersessional meeting in Rome, the commission authorized continued work on a policy that could allow limited whaling in the eastern Pacific Ocean. The policy also would look for ways to reduce whaling in the Antarctic.

Anti-whaling groups are calling the deal overtly political and contrary to the scientific approach that has directed the IWC up until now.

“Science has been thrown to the whalers like Christians to the lions in ancient Rome,” said Patrick Ramage the International Fund for Animal Welfare. See the report by the Environmental News Service.

Several conservation groups have called for the firing of William Hogarth, the U.S. commissioner and current chairman of the commission. Hogarth has been walking a tightrope, carefully considering arguments between whaling and anti-whaling countries. It seems as if his goal is to keep the IWC together, even if it means concessions to the whaling countries. For some insight into the difficulties, read the “Report on the Small Working Group (SWG) on the Future of the International Whaling Commission” (PDF 228 kb) and Hogarth’s testimony (PDF 24 kb) before a U.S. House committee.

The Obama administration is not sitting on the sidelines on this issue. Nancy Sutley, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, issued a statement March 6 with these comments:

The United States continues to view the commercial whaling moratorium as a necessary conservation measure and believes that lethal scientific whaling is unnecessary in modern whale conservation management. The United States also continues to have significant concerns over the recent resumption of international trade of whale meat.

The issues before the IWC are so complicated that I cannot envision a true resolution. As such, I would not be surprised if some sort of solutions result from public pressure and economics rather than international politics.

So what do you think?