Whales in a Sea of Trouble, Part II

In 2007, in an attempt to restore credibility and effectiveness to the organization, the IWC established a Small Working Group (SWG). Led by then-Chair William Hogarth, a Bush Administration appointee, the SWG was tasked ending the impasse on a number of issues for which polarization rather than consensus was the norm within the Commission.

Three years in the making, the SWG “Package” has been unveiled, albeit under different leadership. This time around, Obama Administration appointee Monica Medina, U.S. Commissioner to the IWC and Principal Deputy Under Secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere, NOAA, is leading negotiations. (As an aside note, Commissioner Medina will be serving as the keynote speaker at the upcoming ACS conference in November).

What the Package does is essentially suspend the moratorium on whaling for a period of ten years, thereby allowing these three countries (and no additional countries, purportedly) to legally hunt whales with the goal of reducing takes over that period. What happens after the ten year period is anybody’s guess at this point.

Conservation organizations (ACS included) criticize the Package as essentially legitimizing commercial whale hunting for a decade by suspending the moratorium as a conservation tool.

Loopholes the Size of Craters:

The three provisions that continue to allow countries to continue whaling in defiance of the moratorium remain in this proposal – those are Treaty rights (think of the U.S. Constitution) and cannot be eliminated without approval from every one of the 88 IWC member nations.

In other words, Japan, Norway, and Iceland could continue under the new Package to take objections to conditions in the Package itself about which they are unsatisfied. For example, they could leave the IWC and return with a reservation, and in fact, Iceland has already done this – it left the IWC in1992, rejoined in 2002 under reservation, and within 48 hours announced that it would conduct “scientific whaling”.

The Package attempts to circumvent this offensive behavior by including a provision whereby countries agree not to exercise their rights under the Treaty to take objections or to engage in “scientific whaling”, but it does not as yet contain a Sunset Clause, which would make them negate the entire Package if countries did engage in these activities. Without a Sunset Clause, the risks are too great, and the gains too small, to make this is a viable proposal.

International Trade:

Another issue that concerns conservationists is international trade in whale meat and whale products. IWC regulates whaling, but CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) regulates the international trade of endangered species, and it defers to the IWC on whale issues.

Following the adoption of the moratorium in 1982 by IWC, CITES responded by adopting a ban on international trade in whale products originating from fin, sei, and Bryde’s whales, which remains in place today despite continuous challenges over the years by whaling nations.

Conservation groups and anti-whaling nations are concerned that if the IWC suspends the moratorium, thereby lifting its effect, the message to CITES may be that international trade in whale products could be allowed.

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