Last November I held a press conference to announce preparations and forthcoming activities in support of my Government's hosting of the 58th Annual Meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in May and June of this year. I want to assure you that our local organising committee is working hard to include all members of our community as an integral part of our involvement in this meeting. More than 700 guests are expected over the period of one month. This will bring substantial benefits to St. Kitts/Nevis in particular but to the region as a whole as well.This was originally published in Antigua and Barbuda's SUN Weekend in two parts, here and here (although the publishing was somewhat screwed up - you're better off reading it here in this instance).
In this, what I intend to be the first of a number of communications on this subject, I would like to explain what the International Whaling Commission is, why Caribbean countries are involved in whaling issues and the IWC and why the Government of St. Kitts/Nevis is hosting this meeting.
I would also like to address a number of issues and questions about whales and whaling such as: Are whales endangered? And, why should we support the use of whales as a food resource? Finally, I will address some of the criticisms of the anti-whaling NGOs levelled at the Caribbean countries that are members of the IWC.
The International Whaling Commission (IWC) was established by the 1946 International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW) whose purpose is to "provide for the proper conservation of whale stocks and thus make possible the orderly development of the whaling industry" (quoted from the Preamble to the Convention). It is important to understand that the IWC is therefore about managing whaling to ensure whale stocks are not over-harvested rather than protecting all whales irrespective of their abundance.
The IWC has the management authority only for the 13 species of large whales including the humpback whale harvested by the people of Bequia.
In 1982, the IWC adopted a moratorium on commercial whaling. Since that time, it has attempted to expand its jurisdiction to other smaller whales including the blackfish, which is harvested in a number of Caribbean countries, and to other subjects that are not within the scope of the ICRW.
Many of these subjects, including oil and gas development, fisheries by catch and maritime transport are of direct interest to Caribbean countries and other coastal states.
Current membership in the IWC (66 countries) includes six Eastern Caribbean countries; Antigua & Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St. Kitts/Nevis, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent & the Grenadines, as well as Belize and Surinam.
We are currently encouraging other Caribbean countries to join the IWC in order to increase the effectiveness of our participation and influence to protect our regional interests within this international organization.
Our position in the IWC is to support the sustainable use of all marine resources including whales. No one should be surprised that as small island states, we ascribe to this position since we are dependent on the use of marine resources for food and development.
The fact is that the IWC's own Scientific Committee has agreed that many species and stocks of whales are abundant and sustainable whaling is possible.
Further, the use of cetaceans in many parts of the world, including the Caribbean, contributes to sustainable coastal communities, sustainable livelihoods, food security and poverty reduction. Our position is also based on respect for cultural diversity and traditions of coastal peoples as well as coastal state rights, relevant national and international law, the need for science-based management, policy and rule-making and consideration of ecosystem approaches all of which are the accepted global standards.
We should not accept placing the use of whales outside this context of globally accepted norms for emotional reasons because it sets a bad precedent that risks our use of fisheries and other renewable resources. The anti-whaling NGOs also have other anti-use campaigns that are directly targeted at the fish and fisheries that sustain the livelihoods of many people in the Caribbean.
In many ways, the IWC is about more than just whaling.
Every year, at its annual meetings the IWC adopts resolutions relating to marine pollution, maritime transport, fisheries by catch, whale watching, the catching of dolphins and porpoises and similar issues of direct interest to Caribbean people.
This means that even if we have no direct interest in whaling, our interests and sovereign rights in matters of fisheries, maritime shipping and oil and gas exploration are being affected at the IWC. It is therefore important that we participate in the debates and have a say in these decisions rather than having others (mainly the developed countries of the world) dictate to us on these matters.
Further, scientific research has shown that whales consume huge quantities of fish (on a world-wide basis, this amounts to five-six times the total world catch for human consumption) making the issue a matter of food security for us and other coastal nations.
The IWC must therefore consider the issue of management of whale stocks in a broader context of ecosystem management and the principles of sustainable use of resources and science based policy and rule-making.
Unfortunately, the current situation within the IWC is that approximately half of the members are simply using the IWC as a political tool to protect all whales irrespective of their abundance in order to satisfy demands of NGOs like Greenpeace, the Humane Society and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).
The tourism industry represents one element for economic opportunity and growth for all countries in the Caribbean. International NGOs including WWF, Greenpeace and the IFAW have claimed that joining IWC threatens the tourism industry for our countries (a claim not supported by tourism data) and are lobbying our governments to adopt an anti-whaling policy or stay out of the IWC.
These organisations have campaigned against our counties using false statements, threats of boycotts and accusations that our votes in the IWC have been bought with foreign aid by Japan.
As I have noted above, the fact is however that the fundamental principles of sustainable use of resources and the need for science-based policy and rulemaking are accepted as the world standard and are the basis of the symbiotic relationship between ecotourism and the sustainable livelihoods for coastal communities including their food security.
This important issue is, for example, a fundamental principle of the UN Convention on Biodiversity.
When our position in the IWC is explained in this context it will not negatively affect the tourism industry in the Caribbean.
Further, scientific data clearly indicates that many whale stocks are abundant and that the take of a relatively small number for food in areas such as the north Atlantic, north Pacific, the Caribbean and the Antarctic will not affect the nature or abundance of whale resources or whale-watching opportunities.
There are enough whales for both those who want to eat them and those who want to watch them.
In fact, the two co-exist in a number of countries including St. Vincent & the Grenadines, St. Lucia, the US, Norway, Iceland, Denmark, Canada and Japan.
All of these countries consume whales for food and still have vibrant whale watching industries.
It is also unacceptable that international NGOs such as WWF, Greenpeace and IFAW with their self-interest campaigns should use threats in an attempt to direct government policy on matters of sovereign rights related to the use of resources for food security and national development.
Succumbing to pressure from NGOs on this matter would, in effect, cede them inordinate control over a primary economic opportunity (tourism) for our development. This would set a dangerous precedent for the region as a whole.
I also have to state unequivocally that our votes have not been bought and that they are not for sale.
Our position within the IWC is based on our rights as sovereign nations and our national and regional interests. Accusations to the contrary as part of the NGOs' anti-whaling campaigns are an insult that should not be tolerated.
Finally, the Government of St. Kitts/Nevis, in realising the growing influence of the IWC and international NGOs on ocean use policy and its implications for coastal states in the Caribbean offered to host the 58th Annual Meeting of the IWC.
My government has committed itself to seek the cooperation of its Caricom partners and the Caricom Secretariat in order to achieve the best results possible from this meeting.
I sincerely look forward to the active participation of all Caribbean people in promoting our goals related to ensuring sustainable livelihoods and sustainable coastal communities.
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