Archive for May 2011

Resurrecting the “Compromise Plan” to Legitimize Commercial Whaling

May 25, 2011

The agenda for the 2011 annual meeting of the IWC has been published and much to the surprise of the conservation NGO community, it includes a Resolution by Chile, New Zealand, and the United States to “Maintain Progress on the Future of the IWC” (the ‘Future of the IWC’ being an innocuous name for the “Compromise Plan” advanced during the 2010 meeting to suspend the international ban on whaling for a period of ten years). The Obama Administration, led by IWC Commissioner Monica Medina, spearheaded the initiative, which ultimately resulted in an impasse at last year’s meeting, owing in large part to the advocacy of the conservation community and the nine countries representing the Latin American voting block known as the “Buenos Aires Group”. The language of the Resolution is vague and non-committal at this point, and does not reflect specific recommendations or positions of any IWC contracting government at this time. However, it does sufficiency convey the intent to resurrect a second negotiated ‘deal’ with whaling nations at some point down the line – whether in 2011 or beyond – and consequently, we would be remiss in our mission of protecting whales if we failed to adequately develop a strategy for meeting this challenge again. I will surely be reporting on developments concerning this important issue.

It is a privilege and an honor to represent the American Cetacean Society, its members, and millions of U.S. citizens who care about the protection of whales at this year’s annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission, from Monday, July 11th through Friday, July 15th in St. Helier, Channel Island of Jersey, UK. As is my practice, I will provide real-time updates during the meeting at my IWC blog: “IWC: The World is Watching” (www.iwcblogger.wordpress.com), via Twitter (www.twitter.com/CetaceanSociety), and Facebook (www.facebook.com/AmericanCetaceanSociety).

Thank you so much – for supporting ACS in its mission to protect whales – and for caring about the safety and welfare of whales everywhere!

On behalf of whales, dolphins, and porpoises,

Cheryl McCormick

Executive Director
American Cetacean Society

Japan Awash in a Tsunami of Complexity

May 25, 2011

The 2011 meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in St. Helier, Jersey (UK) promises to be a compelling, lively event, with unexpected developments in Japan, Iceland, and Norway unfolding in ways that will likely shape the direction of the withering, legally-contested commercial whaling industry in the near future. The following provides an overview of current industry activities in Japan, Iceland, and Norway, and what we may expect at IWC this year from the three rogue nations that continue to conduct commercial whaling in defiance of the international moratorium on whaling. This is a four-part series, which each segment devoted to a particular country or issue.

Japan Awash in a Tsunami of Complexity

There has been plenty of speculation about Japan’s whaling agenda in the wake of the devastating earthquake, tsunami, and partial meltdown of the Fukushimka daiichi nuclear power plant. In the days immediately following April 11th, it became clear that a portion of the whaling fleet were damaged, though it was not known to what extent. We later learned that none of thirteen warehouses storing thousands of tons of whale meat were reported to have been damaged. Some predicted that, following the indefinite suspension of whaling operations in the Southern Ocean, the recent tsunami signaled the death knoll for whaling in Japan. But the Japanese culture is known for its resourcefulness and resiliency and, sure enough, it has already begun piecing its fractured whaling operations together.

Expanded Coastal Whaling Program

But let’s go back even before the tsunami… the announcement that Japan would indefinitely suspend its whaling operations in the Southern Ocean came as no surprise to those monitoring the economics of whaling in Japan. With a price tag of $50M annually, it no longer made sense to spend more to go farther to catch fewer whales, and continual conflagrations with Sea Shepherd certainly became a liability. Considering these factors, the conservation community expected Japan to advocate for an expanded coastal whaling program at this year’s IWC, thereby circumventing both issues by 1) keeping operational costs relatively low, and; 2) avoiding conflicts with environmental groups by remaining in Japan’s jurisdictional waters. In addition, the U.S. is already developing its strategy for renewing its bowhead quota, which is scheduled for renewal in 2012. The U.S. vigorously defends its bowhead quota, and historically, Japan has been extremely savvy in threatening to block the bowhead quota and using its position as leverage in achieving its own goals at IWC, in typical quid pro quo fashion. The strategic confluence of the U.S. bowhead quota, its departure from the Southern Ocean, and the impacts of the tsunami on coastal (whaling) communities, will most assuredly result in a request from Japan for an expanded coastal whaling program.

Small Cetacean Drive Hunts

In Taiji (Wayakama Prefecture), pilot whale (‘gondo’) drive hunts began in May, a month earlier than usual. Local fisherman received permission from government officials to begin the hunt in May this year, due to the tsunami’s impact on the overall season. Many were shocked and outraged at the news that the now-infamous cove and small cetacean drive hunts were being carried out so soon after the tsunami, which devastated the town of Taiji. Advocates from Ric O’Barry’s group, Save Japan Dolphins, are following trucks to market to test the freshly-killed pilot whale meat for radiation levels in light of reports of leaked radiation directly into the Pacific at the site of the Fukushimka daiichi nuclear power plant.

Somewhat misleading media reports stated that for the first time since 1988, fishermen’s unions stated that they would not engage in hunting for small whale species (minke) in coastal waters off Taiji, as a result of damage to coastal whaling vessels. However, coastal whaling operations targeting minkes (Japan has a spring quota of 60 minke whales) merely relocated to an area off of Kushiro, Hokkaido. Following the end of this operation in June, the coastal whaling vessel moves to Hakodate (Chiba Prefecture) to hunt for beaked whales until august. The vessel will then return to Kushiro to embark on fall (minke whale) hunts. The coastal whaling season lasts until the end of September, so it remains a possibility that whaling operations will continue off the coast of Taiji, pending the availability of a vessel. Until that becomes a reality, Taiji fisherman will continue to assist nearby whaling towns “in need”.

Japan’s Ability to ‘Afford’ IWC Allies

Perhaps one of the more interesting developments in light of Japan’s situation will be whether it will be in a financial position to extend ‘aid’ and perks associated with alleged vote-buying that it has traditionally extended to its IWC allies – most notably, island nations in the South Pacific and the Caribbean. We will continue to keep our members posted of all activities that influence voting dynamics and issues of integrity and alleged ‘vote buying’ by the Japanese Government.

While we certainly empathize with Japanese citizens whose lives have been impacted by this terrible series of disasters, we must insist that strong measures continue to be adopted that fortify whale conservation and protection, that all aspects of the moratorium on whaling be upheld, and that sympathetic political posturing do not lead to concessions in Japan’s disputed whaling industry – including a coastal whaling program, increased quotas, or relaxed policies related to trade in whale products.

Norway… Whaling in Crisis (Again)

May 25, 2011

By far, the most encouraging news on the whaling front is that Norwegians appear to be losing their collective appetite for whale meat. While domestic consumption has been diminishing for a number of years, many supermarkets are now refusing to purchase the meat. Furthermore, Norway cannot export the whale meat it does catch. Japan will not purchase it because it is perceived as “contaminated” and in fact, minke whale meat caught by Norwegian whalers typically has very high levels of bacteria.

Contrary to indicators of environmental attitudes, a spokesperson for the Norwegian Minke Whalers Association contend that Norwegian whaling is threatened more by ready-to-eat processed food rather than by social attitudes towards consuming whales or criticism from environmental NGOs. The Association has requested government assistance to keep the dying industry afloat, arguing that minke whale populations will increase significantly should their hunts end, bringing whales in direct conflict with humans for ever-diminishing fish resources. It is also seeking assistance with government marketing efforts so that supermarket chains will once again embrace and promote the sale of whale meat. It’s uncertain whether they will receive such assistance. Norwegian whalers are allowed to kill 1,286 minke whales between April 1 and August 31 of this year, though it is unlikely that they will take even half of that quota. There are currently 20 vessels in the Norwegian whaling fleet, down from 60 during the 1960’s. Norway’s annual catch from 2000-2010 = 557 whales (source: Kate O’Connell, WDCS).

Iceland Under Pressure

May 25, 2011

After traveling to Japan to assess current trade opportunities, Icelandic whaling magnate Kristjan Loftsson, CEO of Hvalur whaling company, announced to a group of his employees that Iceland’s fin whale hunt will be postponed indefinitely. Hvular employs up to 150 people during the summer whaling season, and an unconfirmed number are expected to lose their jobs at Hvular. Loffston cites destroyed facilities in Japan, coupled with limited opportunities for exporting fin whale meat due to a mood of austerity within Japanese society, as the primary reasons for the decision. Japan is the only buyer for Icelandic fin whale meat.

Lagging Japanese exports is not the only troubling front for Iceland’s whaling industry. In an attempt to avoid a financial meltdown, the crisis-struck Nordic country is current under review for accession into the European Union, and its escalating whaling and export of whale products is at odds with the EU’s staunchly anti-whaling legislation. As late as June 2010, Iceland continued to thumb its nose at the EU’s request to cease its whaling operations, but as its economy continues to crumble, Iceland may be forced to reconsider its contentious position on whaling, and instead strategically weigh the long-term political and economic gains of giving whaling up versus continuing to willfully disregard prevailing attitudes of the vast majority of the world’s citizenry.

Domestically, we continue to make strides in calling attention to Iceland’s escalating whaling program. Buttressed by the support of more than 80,000 emails forwarded to Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke and Secretary of Interior Kenneth Salazar collected by the American Cetacean Society and five collaborating NGOs, the Obama Administration is threatening to impose trade sanctions against Iceland under the U.S. Pelly Amendment (aka, Fisheries Protective Act of 1967). Under Pelly, countries engaging in whaling or trade whale may face trade sanctions against any of their products that enter the United States. In Iceland’s case, this primarily applies to frozen fish and seafood products (e.g., Icelandic cod). While the U.S. has yet to impose trade sanctions against a nation on account of its whaling activities, the authority to do so is a continuing threat.

In preparation for this year’s meeting of the IWC, Iceland has submitted its quota proposal and as expected, it is ridiculously high. And unlike Norway and Japan, there is no indication that domestic consumption of whale meat is abating; paradoxically, fin whale meat is regarded as ‘exotic’ (relative to minke whale) and consequently domestic consumption (including tourism consumption) is increasing.

Meanwhile, minke whale hunting in Iceland continues. Last year 60 minke whales were killed.