Denmark Bets The House… And Loses It All!
One of the most polarizing issues of this year’s IWC meeting was that of Denmark’s proposal on behalf of Greenland for an increase in catch limits for humpback and fin whales for its Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling (ASW) hunt. While ASW quotas of three countries (the U.S., Russian Federation, and Saint Vincent & the Grenadines) were included in a “bundle” proposal that left commissioners with no option to evaluate quotas based on individual merit (buy one, get two free!), Denmark opted to go it alone with its quota. Why? Because unlike the quotas in the aforementioned ‘three quota bundle’, Denmark was requesting an increase in the number of whales that Greenlanders could take from 2013-2018. Before moving on, let’s review what’s on Greenland’s menu for the 2013-2018 period:
Fin Whales: 19 per year (n =114)
Minke Whales (Central Stock): 12 per year (n = 72)
Minke Whales (West Greenland Stock) 178 per year (n =1,068)
Bowhead Whales: 2 per year (n = 12)
Humpback Whales: 10 per year (n = 60)
Total Whales Killed (2013-2018): 1,326*
* Includes an increase of 18 additional fin whales and 6 additional humpbacks
Well, okay… maybe Greenland needs an increase, right? Perhaps a sudden population boom, increased interest in whale meat consumption over other ‘traditional dishes’, or increased reliance on whales as a source of protein unequivocally justifies an increase in the ASW quota. I could get behind that rationale based on a well-documented, robust Needs Statement.
Umm…no. As it turns out, Denmark’s request for an increase in the number of whales killed has nothing to do with the indigenous people of Greenland at all, and everything to do with selling whale meat to tourists in gourmet restaurants, a practice that is clearly commercial in nature and completely misaligned with IWC regulations.
Under IWC regulations, whale products including meat and blubber from struck and landed whales are to be used exclusively for local consumption. The burden of proof rests with those contracting governments (IWC member nations) granted an ASW quota to provide robust evidence of the nutritional, subsistence, and cultural needs of its indigenous communities. Denmark has failed to meet these standards in its Needs Statement, and in fact, a damning report by the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) and Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS) harpooned Denmark Commissioner Ole Samsing’s plans by publishing the results of an investigation revealing that whale meat was sold in 77 percent of tourist restaurants in Greenland – an indisputably commercial endeavor. Once this report was distributed and shared among IWC, Denmark quickly lost support for its proposal.
Nevertheless, even in the face of dwindling support, Samsing dug in and ‘went for it’, bet the house, and called for a vote on the proposal stating, “We had in the presentations to the meeting made what has been humanly possible to demonstrate that we have respected all rules and regulations in this organization. I will not speculate over why we have not been able to drum up support over a compromise, but the whole affair has to stop now. Therefore, I request that the chair put the whole thing to a vote.” Very risky, indeed, but Samsing has a job to do here, and he’s in a spot. He’s losing support within a body that requires a three-quarter majority for passage of his proposal. If he retracts the proposal, he goes home empty-handed, which doesn’t exactly make him a tough-talking Danish hero. If he calls for a vote and it fails, at least he can report back to Danish and Greenland officials that first, it ‘wasn’t his fault’ that he didn’t bring more whales home, and secondly, he knows exactly which countries supported their bid, and who didn’t. The reason for a failed vote would be pretty obvious.
So, how’d the vote turn out? 25 “YES”; 34 “No”; 3 “ABSTAIN”. The Schedule Amendment for an increased quota request for Denmark on behalf of Greenland is rejected. Oman was included in this round of voting, since its commissioner was present and credentialed. If you’d like to know how your country’s delegation voted on the proposal, the results of the roll-call are as follows. For American citizens, you’ll likely be disappointed by the U.S. vote in favor of Denmark’s proposal, but it was hardly surprising, since it needed the pro-whaling voting bloc to approve its three-quota ‘bundle package’ earlier in the week, which included its six-year quota for bowhead quotas for Alaskan Eskimo communities.
What now for the Kingdom of Denmark? Though it loses its six-year quota of completely, though it does have the option to submit a new proposal during an intersessional meeting (2013 at the earliest). It can also re-submit a proposal during the next regularly-scheduled, which will likely be in 2014, since the Commission is moving to a biennial meeting schedule.
The problem with Denmark’s proposal is simple – it got greedy.
This is a celebratory day for 1,326 whales… and millions of whale-lovers worldwide.
IWC 64/12 VOTE BY ROLL-CALL; Grant catch limits to Denmark on behalf of Greenland
Antigua & Barbuda: YES
Costa Rica: NO
Croatia: Not present
Czech Republic: NO
Dominican Republic: NO
Republic of Ghana: YES
Kenya: Not present
New Zealand: NO
Russian Federation: YES
Saint Kitts and Nevis: YES
Saint Lucia: YES
St. Vincent & the Grenadines: YES
South Africa: ABSTAIN
United Kingdom: NO
United States: YES
A couple of the highlights (or low points, as the case may be)….
JAPAN: This is a very sad conclusion and for those persons living in harsh climates, you are depriving them of a very important source of nourishment. The request by Denmark is solidly backed by science. Those who voted against this proposal do not believe in science and I believe that this outcome is very regrettable.
SAINT VINCENT & THE GRENADINES: This 64th meeting, when I go back to my small capital, is a meeting that I would certainly like to forget. I feel the pain of the people of Greenland placed by this August body of distinguished commissioners who do not understand their circumstances. There are those that could never understand the circumstances of coastal communities and the difficulties in which they live, and could never understand the difficulties of the weak and the poor. I leave here on a very sour note. I see this organization is about whales; it is not about people. I believe that we have lost our focus, and I see greater polarization of this organization and in what we’ve done here this morning, we have done nothing to relive that. I sincerely hope that those who have uttered their condemnations here would see that, and when you go back to your capitals with a good conscious and that you sleep well.