IWC 2012: Epilogue
For the second time in as many years, the annual meeting began without a Chair. The 2011 meeting in Jersey began rudderless with the departure of Chair Anthony Liverpool (Antigua and Barbuda) in the wake of unwelcome media attention the previous year. The Chair position is a thankless, difficult responsibility to navigate, particularly in a climate where worldwide public perception is the that the IWC is largely a dysfunctional body whose vested interests can be bought-and-sold. It takes a thick-skinned, bold, resilient personality to withstand the onslaught from both sides of the whaling debate.
From the Girl Scouts to the United Nations, one gullible sod (um… I mean, volunteer) inevitably steps up to fill a gap in leadership when the circumstances call for it. In 2011, Hermann Oosthuizen (South Africa) stepped up to chair what turned out to be a contentious plenary, which he chaired masterfully given the circumstances, and subsequently got ‘knuckle-wrapped’ by his tweaked government for it. That alone should be a fairly reliable indicator of the low ranking of IWC on the lists of “Highly Effective International Bodies of Inscrutable Repute” of most of the 89 IWC contracting governments.
This left the IWC vulnerable and without leadership before the onset of the 2012 meeting… who would step up? Perhaps because of his affable nature, northern European work ethic and sensibilities, or frustration with the typical IWC “ten minutes of work, followed by 40 minutes of coffee break”, meeting rhythm Bruno Mainini (Switzerland) assumed control of the gavel. All I can say is, “Wow…this is a different meeting altogether.” We barely had a dozen coffee breaks all week, and ticked off more agenda items this year than during the previous two.
Alas, all good things must come to end, and on Friday afternoon, we were informed that the honorable Joanna Messiah, Esq. (Antigua and Barbuda) had nominated her colleague , Commissioner Jeannine Compton-Antoine (Saint Lucia) for the Chair position, with a two-year term. As is the practice of IWC, the Chair and Vice-Chair shall represent a balance of pro-whaling and pro-conservation interests, and so it is that we now have Commissioner Frederic Chemay (Belgium) serving as Vice-Chair for the next two years.
Commissioner Compton-Antoine will be the first woman to serve as IWC Chair, and surely this is something to celebrate. Even better, as the impartial Chair, Compton-Antoine must recuse herself from commenting on issues brought to the floor – one less scolding voice lecturing on hegemony, racism, Colonialism, and deliberate efforts by wealthy nations to keep poor nations from actualizing their sovereign rights to kill whales. One less histrionic, gesticulating personality on the Commission floor.. if only for two years. Undoubtedly, Compton-Antoine will make an “interesting” Chair – as a blogger, I’m looking forward to the material.
The final order of business for the IWC was to move to a biennial meeting cycle for the Commission, primarily as a cost-saving measure; the Scientific Committee would, however, remain on an annual meeting cycle.
Korea played its hand well earlier in the meeting when it revealed plans to resume coastal whaling. With a gap of two years until the next Commission meeting, there would be plenty of time in which to develop a solid plan (i.e., establish quotas, counter debates about diminished minke whale stocks in the Scientific Committee, strategically coordinate logistics, etc.) before anything could be done to slow or prevent implementation of its small-type coastal whaling program. Clever… “J” stock minkes will likely take one for the team, beginning in 2014. And if Japan failed to get its own coastal whaling program passed on the floor, it can purchase its minke whale from Korean coastal fisherman – not a huge loss for Japan. Cheaper to buy whale meat from others than to hunt for it yourself.
As a double whammy of sorts, Republic of Korea Commissioner Joon-Suk Kang proudly announced that he would be honored to host the 2013 meeting of the Scientific Committee. Not wanting to commit their governments to what is sure to be a(nother) contentious, Carnival-esque meeting, not a single Commissioner volunteered to host the 2014 Commission meeting.
So, we wait to see where we’ll convene in two years.
In the meantime, this year’s meeting has indeed been a mixed bag for whales.
Signing off from Panama,
Cheryl McCormick, Executive Director, American Cetacean Society