Archive for June 2010

Civil Society Tells Emperor, “You Have No Clothes”

June 25, 2010

For the second time in the history of the organization, IWC Chair Anthony Liverpool permitted NGO representatives (aka, “Civil Society”) to issue their interventions during the plenary session. Despite having over 80 NGO representatives from the world over in attendance, we were allotted a total of 30 minutes, beginning at 7:20 p.m.

A total of eight NGO groups representing a spectrum of positions on the status of the protection of whales presented their positions to the Chair and delegation, and included such taboo issues as vote buying (or “vote consolidation” in Japanese delegation terms), exclusion of Civil Society from the negotiation process associated with the “Future of IWC” (whaling package), and dwindling public support for whaling operations in Japan and Norway.

Three presentations were of note:

Marlon Mills (Eastern Caribbean Coalition for Environmental Awareness) brought attention to recent reports in the London Times of vote-buying and the Chair’s alleged acceptance of ‘gifts’ from Japan in the form of paid airfare and lodging. I had strategically chosen a seat at the water cooler at the side of the room so that I could more easily gauge reactions from both Civil Society and delegates, and Marlon’s comments elicited an interesting dichotomy of responses – to my left, NGO’s were smiling; to the right, delegates were utterly slack-jawed, as if to imply, Well, yes, but… we don’t actually broche these delicate topics in polite company!

Linda Rognli (Norwegian Society for Protection of Animals) drew attention to a popular video detailing a bungled hunt by Norwegian fisherman whereby a minke whale was allegedly poorly struck using a harpoon cannon, causing the animal great distress and subsequent protracted death. I say “allegedly” because the Norwegian Commissioner (Karsten Kelpsvik) responded the following morning by stating that, in his 28 years of attending IWC meetings, he has “never been so outraged” and launched a 30 minute analysis and deconstruction of the video in question.

Wakao Hanaoka (Greenpeace International, Japan) focused on the “reality vs spin” of dwindling public support for the hunting and consumption of whale meat and products in Japan. He also discussed the well-publicized Greenpeace ‘sting’ involving Japanese whaling crews selling whale meat to illegal sources, and the very public trial and sentencing of the “Tokyo Two”. Hanaoka is a charismatic, articulate, and enthusiastic speaker – his presentation was met with applause from Civil Society representatives as well as a number of delegates.

We were reminded by the Chair of the IWC Codes of Conduct, which prohibit derogatory and/or negative comments toward any individual, group, or country. In speaking truth to power, NGO and advocacy groups run the risk of not being invited to provide intervention on issues in the future. However, it’s clear that the emperor has no clothes.

who else will tell him?

Whale Wars: IWC Goes to the Movies

June 25, 2010

Wednesday – settling into the obligatory “Whale Wars” portion of the IWC agenda, featuring an edge-of- your-seat presentation by Joji Morishita (Japan) entitled, Escalating Violence Against the Japanese by Sea Shepherd, which may as well be entitled, 101 Reasons Why I Hate Sea Shepherd and Their Bat-mobile boat.

I have seen this presentation at a previous IWC meeting – all of us here have seen it at least on one occasion – and yet, I look forward to it. I Skype my colleagues in the room, we meet in the lobby to make some popcorn, and snuggle in to the IWC equivalent of “movie date night”. Okay, not really.

During my first round, I took very assiduous notes on the presentation – not because I am a big fan of Whale Wars (the author has never owned a TV, and thanks you in advance for refraining from judgment) or Paul Watson (not even going there, thank you) – but because I have a keen appreciation for the power of rivalry to steadfastly unite a group around a common cause or philosophy. Sea Shepherd vs. Japan is the high seas equivalent of the Yankees vs. Red Sox – don’t even get me going about that.

During my second time around, I already had an expectation of a given outcome, and so could disengage myself from the punch line and instead concentrate on the details and nuances of the actual story line. In doing so, I noticed that some of the details have changed. ‘Projectiles’ became ‘flaming projectiles’. ‘Bottles’ become ‘beer bottles’. ‘Lasers’ became ‘highest intensity lasers’. I understand Joji’s need to polarize this issue further, and though he will likely not be adding members to the Morishita Fan Club as a result of this presentation, he will win support and sympathy for the issue of ensuring high standards for “Safety at Sea”, the agenda item under which this presentation is given.

The presentation includes a short video clip of the January 6th, 2010 collision between the Sea Shepherd’s Ady Gil, an aquatic incarnation of the Bat-mobile, and the Shonan Maru, a Japanese whaling vessel. The video is taken from the deck of the Shonan Maru. I have included a link the same video clip here, available from Youtube.

Here is a summary of the comments from delegate interventions:

Netherlands: “The Government of the Netherlands did not have any legal recourse for denying Sea Shepherd registration under our flag, but reminded them of their obligation to maintain safety at sea”.

Australia: “Dangerous and confrontational acts are absolutely inappropriate and are not the way to resolve deep-seated differences.”

New Zealand: “NZ is the flag state of the Ady Gil and Peter Bethune is a NZ citizen in front of a Japanese court awaiting sentencing. The NZ government respects the rights of *peaceful protest* but cannot support or condone activities in the Southern Ocean that jeopardizing life and safety at sea.”

USA: “I am personaly dismayed by the increase in violence in the Southern Ocean. As long as we continue to battle within the IWC, we do not set a good example for peaceful resolution of differences and establishing discourse.”

India: “India respects the right of peaceful protests, but any differences in opinion should be resolved within the scope of law.”

Norway: “At one point, the Bob Barker illegally flew the Norwegian flag, which we are investigating. It is clear that SSCS attacked Japan, and not the other way. I would urge the Netherlands to investigate this matter vigorously.” (Speech met with applause).

Surinam: “We cannot solve problems with violence.”

Iceland: “We support everything stated by Norway and add that within this context of violence at sea, we should remove the issue of whaling activities and the right to peaceful protest.”

Japan: “Since we have been “allowing” this activity, Sea Shepherd is now attacking blue fin tuna fishermen. This culture should not be allowed. It is our responsibility to take immediate action to stop this activity. We never attack Sea Shepherd. They attack us.”

These are, by the way, the same statements issued in response to the same presentation during the March intersession meeting of the IWC, with the inclusion of a couple of additional statements from nations not present at the March meeting (e.g., India and Surinam).

Interesting thing, this Sea Shepherd/Paul Watson business. I have yet to meet a single colleague in the whale conservation community – even among the more liberal of us – who condones this reckless and blatant disregard for maritime safety on the high seas, particularly in an area as remote, unpredictable, and challenging as the Southern Ocean. Yet almost invariably, the next statement will be something to the effect of, “…but I’m glad somebody’s bringing attention to the issue.” So, there you have it. Nobody wants to be friends with Paul Watson, but we don’t necessarily want him to leave the playground, either.

I worry about this particular issue, already an inherently dangerous proposition, being played out on “reality TV”. To keep the fleeting attention span of the American public engaged enough to merit high TV ratings, the stakes must be continually raised. There’s already been one collision – there’s the expectation bar. The next step will inevitably be that somebody from either side is seriously wounded or worse.

Will death be the ultimate standard bar for reality TV? Where you even go from there?

Well… that’s a much bigger philosophical question, I suppose.

Whaling Deal On Life Support

June 24, 2010

Wednesday, we expected definitive news on the status of the IWC Small Working Group (SWG) “compromise” package, The Future of IWC. It didn’t come. Many of the delegates came in looking bleary-eyed and expressionless as a result of “intense, but cordial and useful” negotiations lasting into the night.

The 10 round robin groups met in 30 sessions during which pro- and anti-whaling nations were reported as being “close to reaching agreement on a number of issues”. Despite inroads on the cordiality front, a number of issues remain at an impasse, including the Moratorium, quotas contained in the package (“Table 4 Quotas”), Article VIII whaling (‘scientific’ whaling), Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling (ASW), sanctuaries, and trade.

IWC Vice Chair Anthony Liverpool recommended that groups continue to work toward consensus on adopted the package as a whole and refrain from “cherry picking” issues in addressing the way forward in determining the future of IWC.

After the delegates of many contracting governments read their statements concerning the process (below), IWC Agenda Item #3 (“The Future of IWC”) was kept open, thereby allowing additional debate during the remainder of the plenary meeting.

Until the agenda item is formally closed the “deal” is not technically dead. Rather, it remains on life-support until the Chair finally pulls the plug.

Highlights from various opening statements included:

JAPAN: All quotas should be based on scientific data, and Japan always applies that principle. Japan cannot accept quotas under any other condition. The IWC remains polarized and Japan has engaged the process in a sincere way and accepts the fact that, in effect, there is no prospect for consensus on the proposal. Not allowing the take of a single animal in the name of ‘conservation’ is not based on sound science and is unacceptable. It is clear that among whaling and anti-whaling nations, it has become impossible to rise above narrow-minded political and philosophical differences.

KOREA: The members of the IWC lack the political will to change the IWC in any meaningful way. There remain fundamental differences in views over sanctuaries and quotas. Science should guide the future process of any contracting governments, and Korea is pleased to work with scientists from Japan, Russia, and China to develop scientific recommendations with regard to the sustainable use of whale resources.

ICELAND: It’s important that coastal states be able to use their resources in a sustainable manner. Whaling is a part of a bigger picture. Iceland has been working constructively with other members of the Small Working Group to find a compromise between pro- and anti-whaling nations. The original two goals of the SWG were: 1) increased conservation of whales; 2) increased management of whales. The goal was never to eliminate or phase out whaling. Ultimately, contracting governments were not able to agree upon the numbers, largely due to lack of political will. Because of this, Iceland recommends a one-year pause in negotiations.

MONACO: Advocates a one-year “cooling off” period and states, “When you’re whaling on the high seas (vs. coastal whaling), you act like a ‘careless tourist.’ Whales belong to all of us.”

COSTA RICA: The government of Costa Rica encourages non-lethal, sustainable uses for whales, such as whale watching, as well as supporting the formation of sanctuaries. The document does not support my country’s interests.

DENMARK: We have always maintained a position in the middle of the IWC. It is with great sadness that I report that nothing has changed. While the dialog has been polite, it has lacked substantive discussion. I don’t expect anything to change in the next day or so, in the near future. Time is running out for the IWC. I speak for the future interests of the Faroe Islands.’

International Speed Dating: IWC Style

June 22, 2010

Monday was the opening day of the plenary session of the 62nd Annual Meeting of the IWC, in Agadir, Morocco. The ceremony opened with welcoming statements from the Moroccan Minister of Agriculture, Rural Development and Fisheries and the Mayor of Agadir, and was followed by a procession of lively traditional Berber dancers and musicians. This brief prelude was immediately followed by a 45-minute coffee break. I didn’t notice any delegate trying to catch his or breath from the 20-minute effort of listening to the speeches or observing the festivities, but this is the infamous rhythm of a typical IWC meeting – a few precious minutes of work and discussion followed by 45 minutes of coffee break.

As a relative newcomer to the process, I appreciate the opportunity for cultivating professional relationships during the lengthy breaks, but it does appear to be a death knoll for substantive productivity, not to mention its potential for producing highly-caffeinated, jittery delegates and advocates.

Upon reconvening, we were informed by Vice-Chair Anthony Liverpool (who, I might add, appeared to be in stellar health) about the process by which contracting governments would deliberate the infamous compromise package. The discussions will take place in private, closed-door sessions with several countries grouped together “in every conceivable combination” to allow exchange and negotiation of as many perspectives as possible – basically, round-robin style. The U.S., along with Australia, New Zealand, Monaco, and Cambodia, comprise “Group One”. Each group will appoint a rapporteur, who will consolidate the group’s progress and submit his/her report directly to Vice Chair Liverpool. The process is designed to intensity efforts by which to reach consensus among all attending governments in order to finalize a package by this meeting, a goal developed during the 2009 meeting in Madeira. We have started to refer to it as “speed dating,” given its similarity to the social networking scheme. This process will continue Monday afternoon and all day Tuesday, with the plenary meeting resuming on Wednesday morning.

This is unprecedented in the IWC process – the meetings are private and governed by “Chatham House Rules”, whereby participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed (“You can be quoted, but not fired”). Additionally, advocacy groups such as ACS have no access to the delegates (even during their numerous breaks), which greatly handicaps our ability to learn about emerging developments from which we can strategize the way forward. The only way to reach a number of delegates is to email them, and right now many are being bombarded by formatted, pre-written emails, which they generally find unhelpful and irritating.

While we wait, we develop press releases, we identify delegates whose countries have yet to adopt a firm position on the package, we talk to the media and meet with our own delegates outside of the meetings to express our opinions and expectations about the package and the process.

Following the closed-door sessions, the Chair, along with the Small Working Group (SWG), will produce another draft of the package, which delegates will then send back to their respective governments and await their official marching orders. If consensus cannot be reached (and no one reasonably expects this to happen), then voting is expected to occur late in the plenary schedule, although a specific time has not been indicated. While no one is certain at this point, based on nuances we observe and hear, many of us are predicting that the package as it stands will fail.

What happens following the outcome of the vote is anybody’s guess, but no one is expecting a show of grand histrionics, such as public walk-outs by delegates during the plenary.

As it stands, the package is unacceptable to the broader conservation community, though in principle, the higher goal of ‘fixing a broken’ IWC and restoring its credibility is a noble one and should be encouraged. Perhaps it is my inexperience in high-level, savvy international negotiations or plain naïveté, but it seems to me that recruiting leaders whose moral compass point to “integrity and honestly” would be a positive step in the right direction. In the end, I’m certain that the way to restore integrity to a hopelessly corrupt and ineffective organization is not by killing more whales.

A Question of Integrity, Part II

June 21, 2010

Funny thing about the ‘politics of whales’ – it appears that heated IWC deliberations causes onset of “unexpected illness” (and we don’t just mean stress!) among those in the highest positions of IWC leadership.

IWC Chair Christian Maquieira (Chile), the chair of the IWC since 2009, fell inexplicitly and suddenly “ill” immediately prior to the most critical meeting of the IWC in over twenty years. Despite being widely regarded as the chief architect of the compromise being hotly debated and voted upon during this year’s meeting, Mr. Maquieira will not be attending this year’s meeting due to this unspecified malady.

Maquiria, as it turns out, is under a tremendous amount of pressure from all parties within the Chilean Parliament to resign his position as Chair. They feel that through his advocacy of the compromise package, Mr. Maquieira is not acting in a way that reflects the will and values of the Chilean people. In 2008, a poll of the general public found that 99 percent of Chileans supported the formation of a whale sanctuary within their jurisdictional waters. The Chilean government has made it very clear where it stands on the position of commercial whaling.

Since they unveiled the package, Mr. Maquieira, along with Vice Chair Anthony Liverpool (Antigua and Barbuda), have admitted to taking a lot of heat from both sides of the issue.

Chair Maquieira was also notably absent from the March intersession meeting in St. Petersburgh, Florida. As this meeting took place just after an earthquake struck Chile hours before his scheduled departure, everyone assumed that his absence was due to this tradgedy. Now, word comes down that his part of the country was not affected at all, and the timing of the disaster and his absence is largely coincidental.

Now, after the accusations levied at Vice Chair Liverpool (see below), we hear that he, too, is likely too ill to run the meeting. It is unclear at this point who will likely step into that spot, but the timing, again, seems somewhat interesting to say the least.

Given all of this, we are left to wonder who is really driving the compromise package? Certainly it seems many cultures and many nations shy away from it, and some (like Australia) have outright condemned it. The Chair of the IWC, who should be combining the will of his people with his role at the head of the table, clearly has not been doing this. The accusations against Vice Chair Liverpool may be suggestive of what we have feared all along; the package is really a way to move commercial whaling forward, not to allow time for a resolution to a long-standing conflict.

Ultimately, if the package goes through, the Chair and Vice Chair will likely feel better. The same cannot be said for the whales which will stand in the way of the harpoons that will be allowed.

A Question of Integrity, Part I

June 21, 2010

The London Times reported yesterday that IWC Vice-Chair Anthony Liverpool’s airfare and luxury hotel bill were fully paid for by a Japanese company, to the tune of £4,000 (US$6000). Along with the Vice-Chair, Japan is also reported to be picking up the travel and lodging tabs for the delegates of five other countries traveling to Agadir, Morocco.

The scandal couldn’t possibly come at a worse time. The IWC is already in the throes of allegations of corruption and vote buying, and underscores the need for an organizational overhaul to restore the organization’s credibility and transparency.

The Times article states that the Vice Chair’s travel tab was picked up by Japan Tours and Travel of Houston, a company said to be linked to Hideuki Wakasa, who has previously been identified as the middleman who makes secret payments to pro-whaling Caribbean countries.

When the story broke, the Vice-Chair acknowledged the accuracy of the allegations, which he then recanted, and then suddenly fell ill with a serious throat-infection that apparently inhibited his ability to further discuss that matter at all. There seems to be an “IWC bug” going around, because the Chair has also fallen ill, prohibiting his attendance at this year’s critical and contentious meeting. More on that later.

When advocacy groups brought up the issue of the Vice Chair’s alleged transgressions to members of the U.S. Delegation, we were informed that they “had every confidence in (Anthony’s) integrity, that he is innocent until proven guilty, and that they would inquire about the matter during the meeting.” To my ears, this sounded like the equivalent of saying “Stop, or we’ll say ‘stop’ again.” We were informed that “At this point in the process, any one administrator’s power is greatly diminished”, as if to minimize the gravity of the situation. Whether the Vice Chair is actually able to sway the direction of leadership in the Plenary or the voting process isn’t the point. The perception of a transparent, unbiased, and integrity-based leadership is of utmost importance at this critical juncture in the deciding the “Future of the IWC.”

The U.K. Commission has requested to bring the matter up on the Plenary floor; I applaud their efforts to hold IWC Chairs fully and immediately accountable for their actions.

On a side note, I’ve been to the Vice Chair’s hotel… characterizations of “luxury” are galactically overstated. This is, after all, Agadir.

Whales, International Trade, and National Security

June 21, 2010

In late February, I began to consider the linkages between whales and warfare. I’m a bit of a news junkie and lately I have very good reason to pay particular attention to international policy issues between Japan and the U.S., and how the ‘politics of whales’ might factor into the broader political landscape between these two global economic superpowers.

As it turns out, some interesting events soon unfolded within key trade issues. Tom Vilsack, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, traveled to Japan several times for high-level negotiations on beef trade issues – Japan is a huge market for U.S. beef, and for other commodities as well. Japan is the third-largest foreign market for U.S. agricultural products, with total agricultural exports valued at $11.2 billion in FY 2009, an almost 15% increase over the $9.7 billion in agricultural exports recorded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in FY 2007. Japan is a major market for many U.S. products, including chemicals, pharmaceuticals, films and music, commercial aircraft, nonferrous metals, plastics, and medical and scientific supplies. Additionally, revenues from Japanese tourism to the United States reached nearly $14.6 billion in 2008.

But as important as these issues are, there’s a more important issue that eclipses all of these… the Okinawa military base.

You may have heard that Japanese Prime Minister (PM) Yukio Hatoyama recently resigned after failing to deliver on a campaign promise to close the U.S. Okinawa Air Force base in southern Japan, a popular and contentious issue among Okinawans. After a plummeting approval rating among his constituents and calls for his resignation, PM Hatoyama publically issued an apology for failing to reach a satisfactory deal with the Obama Administration, and resigned on June 2nd.

So then it occurred to me. We (the U.S.) want Okinawa and markets for manufactured goods. The Japanese wants our products and… commercial whaling rights? At the time, it didn’t seem so far-flung an idea.

And now, prior to the onset of the IWC Plenary meeting, advocacy groups like ACS are suddenly informed that this issue, per White House communique, is one of ‘national security.’ So….you’ve got to wonder, are whales just one piece in a myriad of much larger trade/economic/military policy?

Of course they are. Many of my colleagues may disagree, or don’t want to consider whales as a part of a bigger trade network. But since when have whales that don’t actually work for the Navy been an issue of ‘national security’ in their own right?

So, in addition to having to keep abreast of all of the cetacean-related news out there, those of us who care about whales have yet another task – assiduously keep apprised of all international and political news.

You never know what connections you’ll make between whales and other seemingly unrelated issues.

What do you think?