Appeasement not compromise

28 April 2010

The International Whaling Commission has released the end-product of a tortuous three-year maneuver to negotiate a compromise with its three whaling member nations (Japan, Norway and Iceland). The result is a “Proposed Consensus Decision to Improve the Conservation of Whales” that would essentially reinstitute commercial whaling. Although the text is billed as “talking points” and “examples,” it will be presented for acceptance at the IWC meeting this June in Agadir, Morocco.

The “Decision” has all the right words but none of the safeguards to meet its stated goal: “to bring all whaling operations under full IWC control and to strengthen and focus the work of the IWC on conservation issues.” Clever phrasing masks sweeping concessions to whaling countries that will last for ten years.

Fundamental components announced in the Decision are misleading and futile.

- Retain the moratorium on commercial whaling by coining the name “non-indigenous whaling” for everything but subsistence whaling. The new category conveniently covers the same whales that are currently being taken for “scientific research” and under objection.
- Suspend…whaling under special permit, objections and reservations by awarding catch limits for the whales currently taken though these ploys by Japan, Norway and Iceland. Moreover the Japanese Fisheries Ministry has already announced publicly that it will continue special permit “scientific” whaling.
- Limit whaling to those members who currently take whales although Korea has already submitted a plan to begin coastal whaling.
- Establish caps for the next ten years that are significantly less than current catches by juggling species and numbers to ensure virtually the same harvest. Catch limits “reflect scientific and policy evaluations of proposals made by whaling countries” and not the Revised Management Procedure accepted by the IWC. Even the raw numbers scarcely qualify as “significantly less”: an average of 1,829 whales a year over the first five years (1,624 in the second five years) compared to an average of 1,934 over the past four seasons (a decrease of less than 6% and 16% respectively.)
- Introduce modern, effective IWC monitoring, control and surveillance measures but leaving enforcement in the hands of the whaling country. This provision is particularly ironic in light of the report published this month in Biology Letters that documents ongoing illegal trade in whale products originating in Japan’s research whaling.
- Create a South Atlantic Sanctuary in a region where no whaling is carried out but allow continued whaling in the Southern Ocean Sanctuary.

Perhaps most frightening is that the compromise would be in effect for ten years. That is twice as long as other IWC decisions—such as the allocation of whales to subsistence hunters like our Alaskan Eskimos. It took half that time for a decline to strike the Eastern North Pacific (California) gray whale, a species crucial to subsistence hunting communities in the US and Russia. The gray whale was removed from the US endangered species list in 1993 and assumed to be growing at a steady pace—until a die-off in 1999-2000, a period of recovery and now reports of fewer calves and more deaths for the past couple of years. A decade is too long to allow whale management to drift unattended.

The US delegation was a primary broker of the original movement to declare the IWC dysfunctional and initiate a compromise with whalers, using its clout to pressure conservation-minded European and Latin American countries to go along with this appeasement. The current US Commissioner has been a strong defender of the proposal, despite representing a citizenry that is overwhelmingly opposed to whaling. Environmentalists are dismissed in public statements for “demanding a complete halt to whaling, an impossible goal.”

During his election campaign, President Barack Obama promised, “As President, I will ensure the US provides leadership in enforcing international wildlife protection agreements, including strengthening the international moratorium on commercial whaling. Allowing Japan to continue commercial whaling is unacceptable.” Today, it is apparently less unacceptable.

Remember too that the French “Blue book” which records the commitments of the final Oceans Round Table meetings in July 2009, includes 5 initiatives to protect marine mammals, and in particular to support Europe’s position on the prevention of Japanese hunting in the Southern Ocean and to help change the convention regulating whale hunting into one that protects cetaceans and marine mammals, specifically by including a definitive and global prohibition on “scientific” hunting and by promoting the creation of sanctuaries in the high seas.

The Cousteau Society stands firmly for the true preservation of the moratorium on commercial whaling and calls on its members to let their government know that the current “Proposed Consensus Decision” is unacceptable. (The US President can be reached through www.whitehouse.gov.) In the words of our founder Jacques-Yves Cousteau, “The image of epic harpooners has given way to that of unionized gunners and butchers working at their disassembly line.”