Wednesday, July 02, 2008

International Whaling Commission Makes Little Progress

[Thanks to ellwort and treebu for this info] SANTIAGO, Chile, July 1, 2008 (ENS) - The International Whaling Commission wound up its annual meeting here Friday without achieving new protections for whales or resolving the deep rifts that divide the member governments into pro-whaling and pro-conservation factions.

The meeting centered on the future of the commission with only brief clashes between the two factions, due to a strategy of avoiding votes and attempting to reach consensus through discussion.

The "no votes" strategy was created and guided by the IWC chairman and U.S. commissioner to the IWC, Dr. William Hogarth, a former top official in the National Marine Fisheries Service, who now is dean of the College of Marine Science at the University of South Florida.

It was intended to rebuild trust between the opposing factions in an effort to modernize the IWC for the future.

The strategy failed Thursday when Denmark insisted on a vote to increase by 10 the number of humpback whales Greenland whalers could kill as part of the country's aboriginal subsistence whaling program.

A humpback whale breaches off the coast of Greenland. (Photo courtesy Greenland Tourism and Business Council)

Discussion of the proposal, which was defeated, plunged the 81 nation membership of the commission into a heated debate similar to past conflicts.

"We are extremely relieved to know that humpback whales are safe from hunting in European waters. The adoption of this flawed proposal from Greenland would have set a terrible precedent for allowing commercial elements in aboriginal subsistence hunting," said Sue Fisher of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, an international organization based in the UK.

This vote on the Greenland quota was the first time that the European Union voted as a single block at an IWC meeting.

Following intense negotiations, the Member States of the European Union agreed that 20 of the 21 members present would oppose the proposal. Denmark voted yes under a legal exemption an has been lobbying hard to obtain the increased quota for Greenland, a self-governing Danish province.

The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society opposed the Greenland proposal on scientific grounds and on the basis that Greenland had not made a convincing case that it needed more whale meat to meet its subsistence needs. Currently, Greenland fails to take all the whales from its existing quota.

"There is also clear evidence of extensive commercialization of whale meat across Greenland and significant stockpiles of unused meat," the WDCS said in a statement.

Once again this year, Brazil, Argentina and South Africa agreed to withdraw their proposal for a South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary with the hope that it would be taken as a sign of good faith that they are willing partners in the shaping of the IWC into an effective agency.

Australia tabled the first proposal the IWC has received for a non-lethal regional whale research program in the Southern Ocean.

Australian Environment Minister Peter Garrett said, "This new Australian-led research partnership will provide the world with a non-lethal approach to gathering scientific information on whale populations in the Southern Ocean, helping improve our understanding of whales and cetaceans and enhancing our approach to their conservation and management."

"Australia has remained staunch in opposing lethal ‘scientific' whaling in the Southern Ocean," Garrett said. "This new collaborative approach offers a new way to conduct whale research based on rigorous scientific methodology, and I would urge nations, including Japan, to participate."

Garrett said in addition to support for the new research partnership, Australia's further proposal for fundamental reform of the Commission is to be discussed at a newly established working group agreed at the Santiago meeting.

New Zealand is "cautiously optimistic" that the agreed path forward for the International Whaling Commission can solve some of the longstanding conflicts between IWC members, Conservation Minister Steve Chadwick said Monday.

"This meeting saw a marked change from the hostile atmosphere that dominated past meetings and we have definitely moved forward," she said.

"However, with Greenland's decision to force a divisive vote on the addition of 10 humpback whales to its quota under aboriginal subsistence rules, we do feel progress has been two steps forward and one step back," said the minister.

The Japanese whaling vessel Yushin Maru hauls a minke whale aboard during its lethal scientific whaling program in the Southern Ocean. (Photo courtesy Greenpeace)
On the contentious issue of special permit whaling, such as lethal research whaling despite a global moratorium on commercial whaling, this year, the IWC Scientific Committee presented a new method for the review of such permits.

The IWC will hold a small expert workshop that will be able to review new proposals, or the results of existing proposals, in an independent manner.

The new process will be used for the first time to review the results of the JARPN II programme. The Commission endorsed this process.

Under Japan's special permit whaling programs, in 2007, a total of 551 Antarctic minke whales were taken under the JARPA II program, while 207 common minke, 100 sei, 50 Bryde's and three sperm whales were taken under the JARPN II program in the North Pacific.

The issue of special permit whaling deeply divides the Commission and as in previous years, strong statements both in favor and against lethal research programs were made.

The Japanese delegation said it is "strongly convinced" that the current situation is undesirable for all members and that the IWC must be normalized.

"Japan commends and appreciates the tremendous efforts Chair-Hogarth has put in over the past year in order to once again make the IWC an effective organization that can fulfill its own mission, the conservation and management of whale resources," Japan said in a statement.

Japan is of the view that "due to serious disagreements among different groups within the IWC, there has been a paucity of constructive, rational and science-based discussions and decisions. Such state of affairs can only be described as dysfunctional."

Patrick Ramage, Global Whale Program director with the International Fund for Animal Welfare said, "The Commission is trying to chart a course for the future while ignoring ongoing whaling by just three member countries. Whale conservation measures were put on ice at this meeting. If Japan, Norway and Iceland are serious about compromise, they should prove it by suspending their ongoing whaling."

"While the IWC is busy sorting out internal bureaucratic wranglings," said Ramage, "1,500 whales will be targets for Japan's harpoons in the Southern Ocean Sanctuary and North Pacific over the next year, while both Iceland and Norway continue their whaling hunts in defiance of the 1986 commercial whaling moratorium."

Conservation organizations expressed concern that the meeting failed to address growing threats to whales, including increasing whaling by Japan, Iceland and Norway.

The next IWC annual meeting will be held in Madeira, Portugal in 2009.


And more... Japan ready to spare humpbacks for another year: official Japan is ready to spare humpback whales from its Antarctic hunt for another year if international whaling talks make progress, a senior Japanese official said Wednesday. After strong protests led by Australia, Japan last year dropped plans to start hunting humpback whales for the first time in four decades. Japan is willing to work with the current chair of the International Whaling Commission by suspending its humpback hunt if there are signs of progress at the IWC, said Japan's chief whaling negotiator Joji Morishita. "The final decision will be made at the last moment, I guess. But ... the IWC process is moving so I assume that the same situation will apply to the coming research season," he told a press conference. The current chair of the IWC, William Hogarth of the United States, has reportedly urged Japan to spare the humpbacks for another year to avoid driving a wedge into an already divided commission. The 80-nation IWC agreed at its annual meeting last week in Santiago to create a 24-nation working group to recommend solutions ahead of next year's meeting in Portugal's Madeira island. It was unable to bridge the gap between anti-whaling countries such as Australia and pro-whaling nations, such as Japan, Iceland and Norway, in a long-standing dispute over commercial whaling. But Morishita said the meeting was less tense than in past years. "People are actually fed-up with the very acrimonious atmosphere at the IWC," he said. ...

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