IWC Commissioners, Delegates, and NGO Observers prepare for the intersessional meeting of the IWC in St. Pete's Beach, FL.
Tuesday was the kick-off to the Meeting of the Small Working Group (SWG) to discuss the Future of the IWC, held in St. Pete’s Beach, FL. Not entirely without merit, the IWC has earned the unseemly reputation of being the international policy equivalent of the Jerry Springer show, with pro- (e.g. Japan) vs. anti- (e.g. Australia) whaling nations firmly anchored at either end of the conservation and management spectrum and perpetuating a decades-long policy and philosophical schism within the organization.
No more, declared IWC Chair William Hogarth. Following the 2007 annual meeting of the IWC in Anchorage, Alaska, a small working group (SWG) of 12 IWC Commissioners was tasked by then-IWC Chair Hogarth (USA) with developing a paradigm shift for reforming the IWC whereby Commissioners were encouraged to negotiate in good faith and offer resolutions through consensus-building. Effective, meaningful reform measures on critical areas such as bycatch, quotas, “scientific” and commercial whaling, trade, etc. would result in compromises for all member nations, irrespective of philosophical and/or cultural positions. As Sir Jeffrey Palmer (New Zealand), Chair of the SWG stated this morning, “Change is painful, but change will happen”.
After more than two years, change arrived on February 22nd in the form of a report by the SWG entitled, Chair’s Report to the Small Working Group on the Future of IWC. In principle, compromise isn’t inherently a bad thing. But compromising on principles? That’s quite another. Today, delegates from 33 member nations expressed their disappointment, approval, and even “joy” at the contents of the proposal.
So where do NGO’s like ACS stand on the report? Of the 29 NGO’s present, all but one strenuously oppose the plan. Never in the history of the IWC has there been such strong, unified opposition to a proposal.
From ACS’s perspective, the proposal seems to favor the conservation of whaling, rather than whales. Some of the significant flaws in the report include the following:
* The draft proposes a legitimization of whaling in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary (SOWS) by proposing an annual quota for whaling in this area by Japan, with no prospects of whaling in the SOWS being eliminated within an agreed time frame. Completely eliminating whaling in the SOWS is the only acceptable outcome. Whaling should not, under any circumstances, occur in sanctuaries. Under the conditions of the draft, the SOWS is proposed for expansion to include the boundaries of the South Atlantic Sanctuary. However, no whaling has ever been conducted in this area, nor has any been proposed.
* Scientific activities within sanctuaries should be restricted to non-lethal activities, and ACS looks forward to receiving clarification from Japan in regards to this issue.
* There should be no catch limits established of any kind, other than those based on scientific data. There is mention of “scientific advice” in the report, but no mention of the IWC Scientific Committee (IWC-SC). Member nations who are currently whaling take scientific advice from their own nationals and government-employed scientists. The IWC has a history of receiving scientific advice, but not acting on it.
* There have been several references in the draft proposal which suggests that the moratorium on whaling has been a failure. It’s important to remember that in its formative stages, five whaling nations originally opposed to the moratorium nevertheless accepted the decision of the Commission.
* The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) listed the great whale species subject to the IWC moratorium in its Appendix One, based on a direct request from the IWC. Therefore, it is critical that a final package address the issue of international trade in whale meat, including reservations (i.e., caveats) under CITES.
Does the Obama Administration support this proposal? Yes…and no.
Is there an alternative proposal that protects whales? Yes.
Stay tuned. It’s going to be an interesting week.