Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Back to the Future

Dr. Sidney Holt is ASOC's representative at meetings of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and has decades of IWC experience. The following guest blog by Dr. Holt provides some background on Japan's political strategy at the IWC.  

Let me return to the Great Massacre, in which I have now also enlisted the iconic sperm whale along with the Great Baleens. Those who perpetrated that have left the scene, just as the English city looters drifted away with their booty and sold it for better things. Some are still hanging around, perhaps hoping to pick up a few remnants.

Japanese ‘scientific’ whalers and their supporters in the bureaucracy and the political circus are now doing that – hanging around. They remind me of vultures cleaning up after the lions’ feast. Are they pursuing the Final Solution, with their eyes on the ‘little’ minke whales? If not, what are they doing, or rather why are they still doing, at considerable cost to the Japanese taxpayers, what they have been doing since 1987? And following the classic tactic of demonizing the survivors – they’re immoral, eating our fish, breeding too fast, spoiling the lives of their bigger brethren. The parallels would be risible were they not sad, even pathetic.

I think that is not quite the story. I think the Japanese whalers truly believe in ‘sustainable use’ of whales while knowing more deeply, from real experience, that ‘mining’ is really the way to go, moneywise. Biologically ‘sustainable harvesting’ of minke whales in the Antarctic is never going to be economically sustainable for operations from the temperate Northern hemisphere, no matter how much the product price is pushed up. And they know it.

The Government of Japan made what would seem to have been an economically sensible decision when they agreed to withdraw their Objection to the commercial whaling moratorium when it came into effect in 1986, in return for a promise from the USA that they would be allowed to fish, at least for a while. under license, in the US Exclusive Economic Zone in the Northeastern Pacific. Then US fisheries policy changed. They were actually ready for that because they had already made ‘scientific’ emergency plans, and had also practiced them in the Indian Ocean and Central West Pacific in the 1970s. One remarkable thing about this episode is that in the 1950s, when the Peace Treaty was being negotiated with Japan, the Americans had invented the MSY-optimum-management criterion precisely in order to keep the Japanese fishing industry OUT of the Northeast Pacific! Getting agreement to be allowed to fish in the Northeastern Pacific could have been regarded as a political success for Japan, as well as a profitable one. But there you go, that’s international politics.

I believe the Japanese strategic wizards thought they would be able to get the whaling moratorium lifted within a few years. They certainly tried, but they had made a huge miscalculation about how world opinion was changing about whales, the marine environment and the Antarctic. And the limitations of scientific research to reveal how, if at all, the depleted stocks were recovering. But the industry’s eyes were looking ahead to the time when, they hoped, there would be enough fin whales, and perhaps also sei and humpback whales, around to make pelagic whaling profitable again, especially for a national enterprise that had gained a de facto monopoly of such an industry, one that requires great knowledge, experience, special skills and specialized hardware for its successful prosecution. They had possibly also been misled by their own favored scientists who had consistently claimed that the whales were not so depleted as others thought, and would recover faster than others thought. However that was, Japanese business, having a reputation of looking further ahead than ’Westerners’, decided to pursue an unprofitable ‘scientific whaling’ scheme for as long as it took, and practically regardlsss of the costs, which would one day be recovered provided the market for whale meat could be kept ‘healthy’. With the idea of lifting the moratorium earlier than would otherwise happen the Government engaged in its costly Vote Consolidation Project, bringing into a the IWC a raft of other Governments from countries not having the slightest interest in or knowledge about whaling or research on whales but willing to give loud voice to ‘sustainable use’ of every living thing that moves, and to cast votes accordingly.

Now came the eventual, inevitable crunch: an ageing factory ship (that is in any case too small and ill-equipped to achieve the acknowledged goal of full utilisation’ of the larger whales), new maritime regulations for Antarctic navigation, rising fuel costs, a diminishing domestic market and no hope of an export one, the forthcoming case of Australia against Japan in the International Court of Justice about whaling and, to crown that, persistent harassment by environmental activists such as Greenpeace International and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, with crew members from all over the world – including Japan itself.  It is not surprising that at least one member of a panel set up to advise the Government about Japan’s future whaling policy, Ms Hisa Anan, has said the ‘scientific whaling’ should end; ‘we have enough data’, she said. (Interview with Australian Broadcasting Corporation, reported by Australian journalist Andrew Darby, 12 August 2011).

Whether Nisshin Maru will go to the Antarctic again this coming 2011/12 summer is still an open question; perhaps the decision has not yet even been taken in Tokyo. In case they do Sea Shepherd says they will be down there waiting for them, with three or four ships. I presume cost estimates, matched with expected (hoped for) short-. medium- and long-term benefits will be the deciding factors.

I hope it doesn’t turn violent. Some noisy people in Britain now want the police to use water cannon against street protesters, in a show of ‘zero tolerance’, as they did in Northern Ireland and do in Chile and a few European countries, and as Japanese whalers have regularly used against Greenpeace and SSCS. All the evidence goes to show that such responses escalate violence on all sides. Very few want that.

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