VIDEO: In Japan This Month: Two Meetings, One Way Forward
Japan's Fisheries Agency, perhaps the last stronghold of pro-whaling sentiment in the great island nation, has now announced results of a meeting it held last week in the seaside town of Shimonoseki to discuss the future of the International Whaling Commission (IWC). According to Asahi Newspaper, representatives from 24 countries and regions -- about half the number initially invited -- met and confirmed their shared views regarding "sustainable utilization" of whales. Beyond Japan, Iceland and Norway -- the last three countries still killing whales for commercial purposes in 2010 -- the invite list reportedly included Cambodia, Kiribati,Tuvalu, Mauritania, Cote d'Ivoire, Senegal, Tanzania, Greenland, and the Caribbean countries of Grenada, St.Kitts & Nevis, St. Lucia, St.Vincent & Grenadines, Antigua & Barbuda and several others.
All-expenses-paid trips to Japan are nothing new for many of these countries' bureaucrats. They are familiar features of a multi-year Japan Fisheries Agency effort to undermine hard-won international whale conservation measures through what Japanese officials call "vote consolidation." What is surprising is that even half the countries invited would show up after what happened at this year's IWC annual meeting in Agadir, Morocco. On the eve of that important gathering, the Times of London released video and transcripts from an extensive undercover investigation into allegations of corruption and vote-buying at the IWC.
The Times explosive coverage shone a light on practices deemed "disgraceful and shady" by former UK Biodiversity Minister Barry Gardiner, apparently including the travel and accommodations of the Acting IWC Chairman being paid by pro-whaling interests.
Later this week several IFAW colleagues and I will help host a very different kind of meeting -- one that is open to the public -- at the United Nations University in Tokyo. Successful Japanese whale and dolphin watching operators from Hokkaido to Okinawa will be joined by counterparts and leading experts from Iceland, Norway, the Caribbean and other countries to review the massive growth of this rapidly expanding ecotourism industry and lay the groundwork for continued development of responsible whale watching across Japan and around the world.
Within a two-week period, two meetings are being held in Japan. Both are focused on whales, with some of the very same countries and regions represented. But they offer starkly different visions of the future and how best to harvest sustainable economic opportunities in the 21st century. Commercial whaling is a cruel, outmoded and unsustainable industry, heavily subsidized by governments, with dwindling markets for products that nobody needs. Meanwhile, as a new, Japanese-language economic analysis to be released at this weekend's conference will show, whale watching is capturing the imagination of entrepreneurs and the enthusiasm of tourists worldwide contributing more than $2 billion annually to coastal economies in Japan, Iceland and Norway and more than 100 other countries and territories. The choice, and the way forward, are clear.
Check back for updates from the Tokyo World Whale Watch conference! For more information about IFAW efforts to protect whales around the world, visit www.ifaw.org