Thursday, May 7, 2009

Guest Blog on the Upcoming IWC Meetings

ASOC is pleased to present the following commentary from Dr. Sidney Holt in the run-up to the meeting of the International Whaling Commission in Madeira, Portugal on June 22 - 26.

Sidney is a scientific consultant, with 50 years of experience concerning the management of whaling and fishing, a career with several governments, the UN and NGOs. More details on Google

It seems that the pseudo-secret-subversive “negotiations” among the Chairman of the IWC (the US Commissioner), a Peruvian Diplomat serving as Chair of a “Small Working Group” of dozens of Member countries, representatives of a select few “important” countries, and the Commissioner for Japan, have fallen by the wayside. The coup de grace to 18 months of talk was given by the Japanese authorities, who recently made it clear that they would neither cease nor significantly reduce their “scientific whaling” programme in the Antarctic.

The idea was a sort of response to Japan’s claims that the IWC has become “dysfunctional”; this mainly because the whaling countries are unwilling to support a management regime that would monitor regulations and ensure compliance with them. The collapse should surprise no one – Japan has never given any indication that it was prepared to consider retreat from its lethal “research” activities, even in return for the award of arbitrary catch limits for its “coastal” whaling in the Northwest Pacific.

A few years ago I was a naïve optimist about negotiation. I thought the Irish Commissioner’s idea of allowing some small-scale but properly regulated whaling in the North Pacific in return, perhaps, for an agreement to prohibit all commercial whaling on the High Seas was deserving of support. That idea quickly disappeared down the Memory Hole – neither whalers nor “anti-whalers” would swallow it.

Perhaps this latest non-development will jolt neutral observers away from the myth that Japan’s whaling in accordance with the “Special Permits” it issues itself under the guise of scientific research has anything to do with science. It doesn’t, it never has and it never will. It is a commercial operation that has until now been unprofitable and therefore in need of government subsidy in the guise of support for science. It will continue, and continue expanding, until it becomes profitable by virtue of the resumed exploitation of the endangered but expected-to-be-recovering fin whales – a resource immensely more valuable that the “small” minke whale that has kept the subsidised industry going for the past two decades.

Doubters who still believe there is some scientific merit in what is going on should consider this: if a genuine oceangraphic expedition, with planned cruise tracks and designated sampling stations, were to be harassed for weeks by ardent campaigners of the Sea Shepherd or Greenpeace ilk, would the cruise leaders continue a rump expedition, dipping their bathythermographs and plankton nets willy-nilly? Of course not! And last year the IWC's Scientific Committee reported that not one of the scientific objectives set through the years has been met!

A second myth has been promulgated by Japan’s whaling lobbyists and some governments: that the controversy over commercial whaling is bipolar: you are either for whaling or against it, and if you support the continuation - at least for the time being - of the regime of zero catch limits begun in 1986 (“the moratorium”) then you must be anti-whaling. Personally I am “anti-whaling” – I think it is unspeakably cruel and entirely unnecessary as a human food supplier and not much use as a job-creator. But bringing commercial whaling to a permanent end must, I think, await the emergence of a new global morality about mass killing of wild animals. Meanwhile, there is nevertheless every reason for keeping the moratorium on the books, unchanged, and to continue to take every possible action to persuade or force the whalers to conform to international law both in letter and spirit. The reason is that the conditions set in 1982 for modifying it are far from being met. There is little evidence of much recovery of the depleted whale populations (certainly not to levels at which they would have been judged as “exploitable” even under the old weak management regime), and now no sign at all of a working scheme for safe management of the industry: drafts of one, tinkered with for a decade, were put down the Memory Hole a couple of years ago.

But the build up of Japan’s whaling will continue while the operators think it will one day again be profitable, and it will stop when they give up that hope. They already have problems with stockpiles of unsold frozen meat. The factory ship is getting old and is too small and ill-equipped for expanded operations – especially for taking the bigger species of baleen whales. Insurance rates for vessels are escalating. Skilled crews are getting older. Those who want – for whatever reasons – whaling in the Antarctic to cease (and it is only the Antarctic that really matters, commercially) would do well to concentrate on thinking of ingenious ways to diminish the potential profit, and if it's still needed pouring some icy water on the “negotiations”.

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