From The News: Int'l Commission To Rethink Ban On Commercial Whaling
The International Whaling Commission will weigh a partial lifting of a longstanding moratorium on commercial whale hunting when it meets next week in Santiago, Chile.
The proposal is aimed at settling a dispute that pits three whaling nations -- Japan, Iceland and Norway -- against the United States, most of Europe and a South American bloc, which favor an indefinite expansion of the ban and tighter overall fisheries protection.
The pro-whaling nations are supported by developing countries that Japan has recruited into the commission and promised foreign aid in exchange for votes. But neither side is close to the three-quarters majority necessary to make major changes.
Championing a compromise solution is the commission chairman, William Hogarth, who leads the U.S. delegation and is a former director of the National Marine Fisheries Service.
Hogarth said the long, bitter fight over the ban has blocked
progress on whale conservation and made the commission irrelevant. He
sees the Santiago meeting as the start of negotiations on reaching a
compromise -- not an opportunity to settle the matter.
"We should not vote on anything until we agree on everything," Hogarth said.
While Hogarth has not provided specifics, a compromise would likely
exchange greater protection for whales for partial approval of limited
commercial whaling with strict quotas.
Advocacy groups say Hogarth's broad proposal is outrageous. "Whales
face more threats today than at any point in their history from
pollution of habitat, collisions with high-speed vessels, ocean noise
pollution and the looming threat of global warming," said Patrick
Ramage, whale program director for the International Fund for Animal
Welfare. "The last thing we should be considering is a resumption of
But Hogarth said a compromise would benefit whales, allowing the
commission to meaningfully regulate whaling and decrease the total
number of whales killed.
The moratorium, Hogarth said, is not working. Iceland and Norway engage
in commercial whaling, but by far the largest and most adamant whaler
is Japan, whose ships have killed more than 14,000 whales since the
moratorium was adopted in 1986.
The Japanese delegation argues that its whaling does not violate the
commercial moratorium because it is classified by the international
body as "special permit" or "scientific" whaling.
But there is scientific consensus that research could be conducted through non-lethal measures.
Japan's claims were further injured in February when it was
discovered that workers on the scientific vessels were given whale meat
to sell. In 2006, Japan announced plans to take endangered humpback
whales but later suspended them in the face of international outrage.
Despite many International Whaling Commission (IWC) resolutions
condemning Japan's whaling, its program continues to grow. And it will
continue to do so until there is compromise at the commission,
according to Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska).
"The IWC is a broken body," said Young, noting that more than 37,000
whales have been intentionally killed since the moratorium was adopted.
"If the IWC cannot come to some agreement on how to go forward, Norway,
Iceland and Japan have all signaled in recent years that they want to
take more whales, or more species of whales, and under the current
rules they can do so."
Hogarth said a compromise with Japan, as well as building consensus
for expanded conservation measures, could reduce the number of whales
killed by setting quotas beneath what is currently taken.
"I don't understand how anyone could be against a plan that reduces
the number of whales killed," he told a House panel at a June 9 hearing.
Hogarth's delicate position
Hogarth's role as commission chairman and compromise broker has
muted his ability as head of the U.S. delegation to push for
conservation, Ramage said.
That position is further complicated by pressure from Congress to
protect subsistence whaling permits for Alaskan natives, whose
permission to take a few whales every year for their own consumption
must be renewed by the IWC every five years. At the 2002 meeting in
Shimonoseke, Japan, the Japanese delegation blocked the Alaskan quota,
and a special meeting had to be called to pass it.
"Every year, the U.S. delegation is delivered bound and gagged to
the convention floor," said Ramage, who has attended 10 of the past 12
conventions. "The message they get from Congress is, 'Good luck, do
something good for whales, but whatever you do, don't mess up our
This year appears to be more of the the same.
On Wednesday, the House approved H.R. 350
despite a last-minute objection from Young, who said it could threaten
the native quota.
"This resolution does nothing to save the whales; in fact, it might
do the opposite," Young said. "Alaska's quota cannot be held hostage
for other countries' political whims. The U.S. needs to be very careful
what it says about whaling because it is a whaling nation."
Emerging Buenos Aires bloc
At the 2006 commission meeting in St. Kitts and Nevis, the host nation
introduced a nonbinding resolution that called for the legalization of
whaling and blamed overpopulation of whales for collapsing fish stocks
The measure passed by simple majority, and while it did not make any
rule changes, it did serve notice to pro-moratorium nations that
commission politics were tilting against them.
"St. Kitts, along with Japan's announcement that it was going to go
after humpbacks, was a wake-up call that the conservation majority was
in danger at the forum," Ramage said.
The Buenos Aires group, whose member states earn revenue
through ecotourism, favors new marine sanctuaries in its in southern
The Buenos Aires bloc and other countries want to nudge the IWC
toward a whale conservation forum whose purview extends beyond whaling
to the full gamut of threats whales face, many of which didn't exist
when the commission was established in 1946.
Countries are also more interested in protecting whales as a
resource, as whale watching becomes a popular and lucrative component
"What we see when we step outside this antiquated body that nobody
has ever heard of, we see a global move toward whale conservation,"
Ramage said. "Country after country has put down the harpoon and picked
up the camera."
Softer approach by Japan
This year's Japanese delegation may be especially amenable to compromise, some observers say.
In early July, Japan will host the Group of Eight summit, where
climate change is among several key issues on the table. Playing the
role of rogue whaler during the IWC convention could damage Japan's
hopes of establishing itself as a world leader in environmental matters.
There are signs that Japan is taking a softer approach to the IWC.
During the past decade, Japan has repeatedly introduced a proposal
to create a new category called "cultural, community-based, or
small-type whaling," which would allow coastal communities to kill
whales and sell their meat without violating the commercial whaling
moratorium. Japan insists the category would recognize cultural ties to
whaling and invigorate struggling economies, but conservation advocates
call it yet another attempt by Japan to circumvent IWC regulations.
This year, the Japan delegation has vowed it would not introduce the proposal "as a sign of good faith."