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 user 2006-06-12 at 10:23:00 am Views: 69
  • #15670

    Whaling nations set for majority

    Pro-whaling nations look set to command a majority of the votes when
    the International Whaling Commission (IWC) annual meeting begins on

    Several countries which appear likely to vote with the pro-whaling bloc have joined the body in recent weeks.

    UK marine affairs minister Ben Bradshaw said he is “very concerned”.

    A pro-whaling majority could lead to the scrapping of conservation and
    welfare programmes, though not a return to full-scale commercial

    That would need
    three-quarters of delegates at the meeting in St Kitts & Nevis to
    vote in favour, which is extremely unlikely.

    But a simple majority would be enough to end IWC work
    on issues which Japan believes to be outside its remit, such as welfare
    and killing methods, whale-watching and anything concerning small
    cetaceans such as dolphins.

    “For the first time since the 1970s, the IWC would be
    under the control of the whalers,” commented Vassily Papastavrou, a
    marine biologist working with the International Fund for Animal Welfare

    “Japan has said that it intends to undermine decisions
    which protect whales and stop the conservation work of the IWC,” he
    told the BBC News website.

    Divided world

    The potential for collision is higher at this year’s meeting than it has been for decades.

    Hindus don’t eat beef, that’s their choice, but they don’t try to prohibit the rest of the world from eating it

    Rune Frovik

    Formed in 1946, the IWC’s original purpose was to regulate commercial
    whaling; and after it became obvious that some species were being
    depleted to the verge of extinction, that regulation took the most
    robust form possible: a global moratorium.

    Norway made a formal objection to the ban and has continued
    to hunt, though catching radically fewer numbers than a century ago.
    Japan, and more recently Iceland, hunt under an IWC ruling which allows
    nations to catch whales for “scientific research”.

    Both have stepped up the size of their annual hunts in
    recent years, with the 2006 catch on target to exceed 2,000, the
    largest take since the introduction of the moratorium in 1986.

    Pro-whaling nations insist that a limited return to
    commercial hunting is possible; stocks of some species are high enough,
    they maintain, charging that the IWC has become an organisation
    dedicated to preventing whaling, contrary to its purpose.

    At the IWC’s foundation is supposed to be sound
    science; arguments such as which stocks are sufficiently robust to hunt
    are in theory answered on a strict scientific basis.

    But there are huge variations in estimates of minke
    whales, the species currently most hunted, which makes it almost
    impossible to set global catch limits.

    The scientific process has also become mired in
    politics, with decade-long discussions on a mechanism called the
    Revised Management Scheme, designed to facilitate a return to limited
    commercial whaling, breaking down earlier this year.

    The anti-whaling bloc is now led informally by Australia, New Zealand and Britain, with the US a major ally

    Within the last year this group has co-ordinated letters of diplomatic
    protest to Norway and Japan, signed by 12 and 17 countries

    “They are losing the argument, internationally and domestically,” said Ben Bradshaw.

    “None of the pro-whaling nations have markets for the meat; young
    Japanese, Icelanders and Norwegians don’t eat it, consumption is

    This argument is countered by organisations supportive of whalers and whaling, such as Norway’s High North Alliance.

    “We think there is growing support for whaling in principle and in practice,” said its secretary Rune Frovik.

    “Whales belong to the animal kingdom. In some cultures they eat frogs,
    others don’t; Hindus don’t eat beef, that’s their choice, but they
    don’t try to prohibit the rest of the world from eating it.

    “And we think that you can’t find anything more
    environmentally friendly than whale meat – this is an animal which
    lived in nature, we are harvesting nature’s surplus and you don’t have
    to destroy nature to do that.”

    Horse trading

    Whatever the moral rights and wrongs, it seems like that after years of
    trying the pro-whaling bloc may have built itself a working majority
    this time.

    The run-up to each IWC meeting sees the opposing groups of nations trying to bring supportive new members into the organisation.



    – A country formally objects to the IWC moratorium, declaring itself exempt


    – A nation issues unilateral ‘scientific permits’; any IWC member can do this


    – IWC grants permits to indigenous groups for subsistence food

    The Marshall Islands, Guatemala and Cambodia have reportedly joined in recent weeks at Japan’s behest.

    But an accurate tally will only be possible when the Commission
    convenes on Friday in St Kitts; only then will it become clear which
    countries have sent delegates and paid their subscriptions, entitling
    them to vote.

    “[The pro-whaling nations] had a majority last year on
    paper,” said Ben Bradshaw, “but because some of their allies failed to
    turn up or pay their dues we won all the votes – but one of them by
    only one vote.”

    The fallout of a pro-whaling majority would be, in Mr Bradshaw’s words, “international uproar”.

    How far the anti-whaling leaders would be prepared to go diplomatically
    against Japan, Iceland and Norway, with whom they have so much common
    ground on issues other than whaling, is a moot point.

    There is talk of action aimed at the tourism industries
    of countries which have recently supported whaling, especially the
    small Caribbean states such as this year’s host, St Kitts and Nevis.

    A delegate from one of the anti-whaling nations told
    the BBC News website there would not be an organised boycott, but the
    word would be put out that certain nations which portray themselves as
    holiday destinations resplendent with natural beauty had supported the
    killing of whales.