Commercial Whaling Moratorium Holds for Another Year

SORRENTO, Italy, July 23, 2004 (ENS) - Whale conservationists won several victories this week at the International Whaling Commission annual meeting that wound up here Thursday, but other battles were lost to pro-whaling interests. The 18 year long moratorium on commercial whaling is still in place, but there will be no whale sanctuaries in the South Pacific or the South Atlantic at least for another year.

Still, the 57 member commission reaffirmed the Southern Ocean sanctuary by rejecting a bid by Japan and other pro-whaling nations to lift the moratorium on commercial whaling in the Antarctic.

Japan proposed to take another 3,000 minke whales, seven times its current amount, as commercial catch. Japan sought that quota in addition to the 440 minkes that Japanese whaling vessels take from the Southern Ocean each year under the scientific whaling exemption to the moratorium imposed by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in 1986.

"There was no sell-out in Sorrento. The push to pave the way for a resumption of full-scale commercial whaling has failed," said International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) President Fred O’Regan, an accredited NGO delegate at the meeting.

"IFAW welcomes the initial progress of the new IWC Conservation Committee and the IWC’s re-affirmation of the Southern Ocean Sanctuary. We are also encouraged by the increased attention now being given to the threat vote buying poses to the transparency and accountability of the IWC," O’Regan said.

But the allegations of vote buying advanced by IFAW and other whale conservation groups at the meeting offended Japan and other whaling nations.

In response to their complaints, Acting IWC Chairman Roland Schmitten of the United States announced the creation of an IWC working group to develop a "code of conduct," including measures for expulsion of NGOs, to be chaired by Iceland, a pro-whaling country.

Schmitten said that the NGOs had made "unsubstantiated statements" that had offended some commissioners and disrupted the work of the commission.

"The IWC is not being disrupted by NGOs, it is being disrupted by vote buying," said O’Regan. IFAW and other NGOs provided data and analysis on Japanese vote buying within the IWC.

IFAW, Greenpeace and other NGOs allege that Japan offers fisheries aid to poor coastal countries in exchange for their support of Japan's whaling policies. Japan has "bought" 16 friends at the IWC in this way, Greenpeace says, including six eastern Caribbean states - Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, St Kitts and Nevis - the Solomon Islands and Guinea. All of these countries speak in favor of a resumption of commercial whaling, voting with Japan at all IWC meetings.

WWF expressed "extreme disappointment" at the tactics used by Japan and its allies at the IWC which led to the failure to create a South Pacific whale sanctuary for the third year in a row.

"The wishes of the region have been ignored," said Chris Howe, conservation director at WWF-New Zealand. "This sanctuary would have provided enormous benefits to both whales and people in the Pacific but once again it was blocked by countries taking orders from Tokyo."

Japan and the majority of its allies, including new recruits Mauritania and Tuvalu, voted against the proposal along with other pro-whaling nations.

WWF says rejection of the sanctuary proposal is an instance in which Japan's vote buying worked to its advantage.

The sanctuary would cover around 26 million square kilometres of the Pacific, south of the equator. Many whale populations in the Pacific remain depleted as a result of past commercial whaling, WWF says, such as the humpback whales that have failed to reappear in significant numbers in their former breeding grounds in Fiji, Vanuatu, Samoa, and New Zealand.

New Zealand's IWC commissioner Geoffrey Palmer objected to Japan's taking of hundreds of whales annually for "scientific" purposes, despite the moratorium. "It's widely known that scientific whaling is practiced for improper, non-scientific motives," said Palmer, who is a former prime minister.

Japan's commissioner Minoru Morimoto said that New Zealand could take the matter up with the International Court of Justice.

Australia's new Environment Minister, Senator Ian Campbell, also attacked Japan and Iceland over plans to increase the slaughter of whales under the guise of scientific research.

"This generation has a responsibility to rebuild the health of the world's oceans," Campbell said. "Saving whales is an iconic representation of that work. Killing whales in the name of science is an affront to science. It is not science – it is commercial slaughter."

Campbell said that since Australia abandoned whaling 25 years ago, the population of humpbacks in its coastal waters had grown from an estimated 500 to at least 10,000.

While some species, such as humpback whales, appeared to be increasing well, other species such as blue whales were still estimated to be less than one per cent of their original numbers.

Campbell said he was alarmed to learn that Japan is to increase its catch of minke whales to over 800 next year. Norway also is likely to take 670 minke whales this year under its reservation to the moratorium on commercial whaling and this week submitted a plan to more than double its hunt. Iceland would target 25 minke whales this year and has not ruled out expanding its program.

"Commercial whaling continues to expand in the face of the moratorium, despite repeated requests from the IWC for the practice to end," Campbell said.

The High North Alliance, a pro-whaling organization based in Denmark's Lofoten Islands, said the fundamental issue is resumption of the management of whaling under the Revised Management Scheme (RMS).

Anti-whaling nations Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Germany said that they would like to see the Revised Management Scheme adopted, but not implemented, as they wish to maintain the moratorium beyond the adoption of the scheme.

Pro-whaling nations fail to see the logic of discussing the Revised Management Scheme if there is no intention to lift the moratorium.

The IWC did adopt by consensus a resolution providing that it will move "expeditiously" towards the completion of both the drafting of text and technical details of the Revised Management Scheme" for discussion at next year's IWC meeting in Ulsan, Korea.

The resolution also expresses that the IWC is, "Concerned that the failure to reach broad agreement on the RMS in the near future may seriously jeopardise the ability of the IWC to fulfil its responsibilities.

"By blocking the IWC to resume its management tasks, the anti-whaling countries force the whaling nations to conduct whaling outside of IWC control," said Rune Frøvik, secretary to the High North Alliance.

On Thursday, the commission discussed the development of its new Conservation Committee, established at last year’s meeting in Berlin. While some delegates argued that the IWC should not focus on conservation, the commission maintained that it has a clear mandate for the conservation of whales.

This year the IWC Scientific Committee considered the impact on whales of noise from seismic testing used by the oil and gas industry, and of military sonar. Loud sonar signals used by the military to locate enemy submarines are responsible for increasing numbers of whales being stranded on beaches and dying, the scientific committee said in its report.

Sue Fisher of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society said, "Unfortunately, whales face a huge range of threats today, including chemical and noise pollution, vessel strikes and bycatch in fishing nets. The impact of whaling on whale populations cannot be considered in isolation and must be addressed in light of the whole range of threats."