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David @ Tokyo

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IWC 2006: Dr Ray Gambell OBE on the IWC

Tony Best is a Caribbean based journalist who has been reporting on the whaling issue for years. He has an interview with Dr Ray Gambell OBE in Barbados' Nation Newspaper:

The Best Report – IWC decisions taken over by politics

The INTERNATIONAL Whaling Commission, the body set up more than 50 years ago to manage the world's whale stocks, has lost its way and isn't carrying out its key role.

And so, Ray Gambell who headed the IWC's secretariat for at least two decades has concluded that the global organisation which is due to meet in St Kitts-Nevis next month has become largely dysfunctional.

"That is true to the extent that it was established in 1946 to regulate commercial whaling and it is not doing that," he said in an interview from his home in England. "It is not carrying out its primary function."

Gambell, a British marine scientist who stepped down as IWC secretary about five years ago, said that unfortunately politics rather than science has hobbled the commission, preventing many of its members from harvesting some whale stocks which were in abundance, according to the findings of the commission's own Scientific Committee.

"The original people and nations were trying to regulate a high-seas fishery but in more recent times the attitude in the world has been not too much to the utilisation of a natural resource, but the preservation of it," he complained. "So, they are using a piece of fisheries legislation to prohibit capture of stocks of whales, some of which are capable of being utilised on a sustainable basis."

Gambell – who, like commissioners from Caribbean member-states Antigua, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, St Kitts-Nevis, St Lucia and St Vincent, supports sustainable utilisation of the world's marine resources – was awarded a British national honour, membership in the Order of the British Empire, OBE, by Queen Elizabeth for his work with the Commission.

He charged that some nations backed by strong NGOs had wrongfully changed the use of the fisheries legislation "from regulating and catching to prohibition of catching".

It's an approach he opposed on scientific grounds.

Little wonder, then, that Gambell said he was enjoying his retirement while not missing the IWC.

"I am having a very nice time in retirement and I don't miss the International Whaling Commission at all," he said. "It was very hard work and, particularly towards the end, there was very little movement or very little action in what the Commission was doing in the last few years, which was very frustrating."

Interestingly, when the IWC held its first meeting in the Caribbean, Gambell was head of the Secretariat; now that it is returning to the region, he would follow its proceedings from afar.

If Gambell has a major regret, it is the drift away from science-based decisions to actions which are prompted by politics, particularly when it comes to preventing any stocks from being utilised as food.

"As I understand the current estimates of certain stocks, the numbers and their capacities to sustain catches, it is true that there are stocks which could support a regulated catch at a level which could ensure that there is no depletion of the stock," he said. "I think there is a great deal of politics involved. A country which has a powerful economic position is able to use that strength to encourage other people to think the same way."

The IWC's annual plenary meeting is to be held June 15 to 20 in Basseterre, St Kitts.

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