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David @ Tokyo

Perspective from Japan on whaling and whale meat, a spot of gourmet news, and monthly updates of whale meat stockpile statistics



Japan whale meat stockpile stats by graph

Continuing on with my analysis of official frozen whale meat stockpile figures from the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forests and Fisheries, I've created some graphs to make it easier to see the patterns in the numbers:

Click on graphs for larger version

Figures for the 12 months to August 2006 end

From these figures we can see very clearly that the incoming stock is only a significant feature in the months of March, April, when the research vessels returns to port from JARPA II in the Antarctic, and again in July and August with the JARPN II programme supplying by-products in the northern summer months.

For the rest of the year, there is little in the way of supply. That which there is presumably whale meat resulting from by-catch and strandings. The Japanese government legalises selling whale by-catch as a means of compensating fishermen for the damage done to fishing nets (I understand that there are certain conditions for this - the ICR has some strandings figures which I will take a read through sometime).

So, the trend is there to see pretty clearly - incoming stock for the year to the end of August 2006 is only marginally ahead of outgoing stock shipments, resulting in a 469 tonne difference. Average outgoing stock shipment per month was around 650 tonnes, so really we are not talking about a huge difference. Certainly a far cry from the Greenpeace assertion that the market for whale meat in Japan is dying. This is all the more remarkable as the supply of whale meat in March and June was around 2,500 tonnes higher in 2006 than in 2005 (those months not shown on these graphs). That is, the bulk of the additional supply has apparently already been absorbed - an approximate 2,000 tonne increase in consumption over the previous period.

Were I a betting man, I'd be putting money on the option that says consumption will outstrip supply for the year to February 2007.

* * *

Some of those who hold the view that there is a dwindling market for whale meat will question where the extra consumption is coming from. You only have to read my blog to see stories of increasing consumption in the Japanese news media (including reports of 50% increase in whale meat sales, which reconciles with the official figures above). Nonetheless, the skeptical still refer to the idea that the government is forcing whale meat down the throats of school children, the elderly, and the sick.

In fact, figures released by the ICR indicate that just 574.4 tonnes of the total of 3,435.8 tonnes of whale meat by-products from the JARPA II was allocated for use in non-profit activities (school lunches, and distributions in traditional whaling areas, etc).

* * *

An interesting feature of the whale meat by-products supply is that obviously there are two main seasons when whale meat comes into stock - the month(s) when the whaling fleet returns from the Antarctic, and when the fleet is operating in the North Pacific. The viability of a future commercial whaling industry presumably has a large reliance on the possibility of resuming commercial whaling not only in North Pacific waters, but also in the Antarctic, as this means that the whaling fleet capital is not tied up at the wharf for half the year.

* * *

UPDATE: Graphs courtesy of a great little web-based tool that you can access here.

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Deception over whale meat demand in Iceland? Part 2

Yesterday I voiced some initial suspicion over claims from groups such as Greenpeace that "Iceland has no market for whale meat".

In support of this claim they state the fact that "In Iceland only 1.1% of the population eat whale meat once a week and 82% of 16 to 24 year olds have never eaten it"

This doesn't really tell us much at all, in fact. An important question is whether whale meat is actually available to be eaten in the first place. We have to remember that Iceland stopped commercial whaling quite some years ago, and only recommenced scientific whaling in 2003. Only small numbers of whales have been taken during the time, meaning supply would be limited to a few hundred tonnes, anyway.

My suspicions seem to have even more solid ground, after I noticed a news report in the Japanese media (my translation):
"An Iceland Fisheries Ministry spokesperson said on the 18th in response to questions from Kyodo Tsushin that the whale meat supplied from Iceland's resumed commercial whaling operation "will be mostly consumed domestically", and acknowledged that there were no plans to export the products to Japan or other markets.

The spokesperson stated that "as a result of whaling groups employing marketing staff, domestic consumption of whale meat has increased by 4 times over the past 3 years", expressing the view that the meat could be sold domestically.

With regard to the quota for fin whales, which is classified as endangered by the World Conservation Union (IUCN), the official stated that "In the North Atlantic the species numbers 25,800. The level of resources can be maintained".
I wonder if it is foolish to believe the Iceland Fisheries Ministry instead of Greenpeace on these matters?

UPDATE: November 8, 2006
Iceland and Japan are now reported to be in negotiations related to resuming trade in Fin whale products (source).

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IUCN support for recreational hunting

The recent article in the BBC from Eugene Lapointe of the World Conservation Trust that I mentioned yesterday may have been timed to co-incide with a symposium recently held by the IUCN in London which found "strong links between recreational hunting, conservation & rural livelihoods".

Some important points in my mind:

The need for good governance at all levels was a theme echoed by many speakers.


Among the outcomes to be further considered by the SUSG ... the need for wider understanding of the contribution which hunting makes to pro-biodiversity land management and livelihoods.

I'm not a hunter myself and I probably never will be. The same will go for many people who care about conservation, and thus likely have a kneejerk reaction of cringing at the idea of recognising the killing of animals for recreation as an OK thing.

Nonetheless it's hard to deny the benefits that have been seen through the approach in pure conservation terms, as argued by Eugune Lapointe and here at this symposium.

The animal welfare groups in particular will fight this tooth and nail, I imagine.

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Deception over whale meat demand in Iceland?

Another article in the IcelandReview from Daniel Heimpel. I seem to have seen this on someone's blog once, a few months ago - it's about Iceland's scientific research programmes, and well worth a read.
Early results indicate minkes eat more cod than local scientists recently thought. The smallest of the baleen whales, minkes are equipped with short stiff baleen allowing for a varied diet, including cod, the fish that about a quarter of Iceland’s total export earnings come from.
“Last year all the meat was sold,” Víkingsson says.
Really? I've been reading from various sources that because there is no demand in Iceland for whale meat, and (alledgedly) no export market, that Iceland's decision to resume whaling makes no sense.

While whale meat accounts for less than one percent of meat sold through the country’s largest meat seller, Nóatún, it is enormously popular in restaurants.

In Reykjavík’s Saegreifinn restaurant, they call it “Moby Dick on a Stick” and sell it to tourists fresh off whale-watching trips. In Akureyri, a waitress at the popular Bautinn says that minke meat is the favorite special.

I have a growing suspicion that, as is the case in Japan, these reports about a lack of demand in Iceland could be (deliberately?) inaccurate. I would not be surprised if the reports we are hearing in the western media about a lack of demand in Iceland is actually more due to a lack of supply.

Recently when Iceland annouced it would resume exports of whale meat to the Faroe Islands, it turned out that this involved only half a tonne or so of meat. The amount was so insignificant that it seems this may have been a more politically motivated move than a commercial one.

Of course, Iceland has a small population, so there is certainly not the potential demand for whale meat in Iceland that there is in Japan, but still I find myself wondering if the meat from this new commercial hunt could not find some hungry stomachs up there in the North Atlantic. There will only be a few hundred tonnes of it, after all.

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BBC articles sustainable use for conservation

The BBC is running an article on the notion of sustainable use for conservation, after an opinion piece by the IWMC - World Conservation Trust's Eugene Lapointe was published in their "Green Room".

Lapointe uses developing countries in Africa as an example of where this approach has been successful, comparing positive outcomes in Southern African nations where consumptive use is embraced, with Kenya where consumptive use has been rejected but poaching remains an issue.

An IFAW spokesperson responding to the BBC was naturally outraged (the IFAW think that killing animals is not "morally justifiable"), but Dr. Peter Lindsey from the University of Zimbabwe agreed that overall the benefits of an approach embracing consumptive use, of which sport hunting is one manifestation, make it neccessary to retain for conservation purposes.

The IUCN (World Conservation Union) also broadly supports sustainable use as a conservation mechanism. Their sustainable use policy can be found here.

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Rune Frovik in MSNBC

Rune Frøvik of the High North Alliance is in an interview with Newsweek at the MSNBC, explaining Iceland's commercial whaling resumption. The original is full of advertising junk, so you may prefer to read the full interview is reproduced here for posterity:
NEWSWEEK: Your critics have condemned Iceland’s resumption of commercial whaling as cruel and unnecessary.
Rune Frovik: The whalers are using very efficient hunting methods. The animals are dispatched with a grenade and die without suffering. About 80 per cent of the minke whales killed [for scientific purposes] in Norway die instantaneously.

But is it necessary?
This is an environmentally friendly way of providing food and it provides people with a living. You could just as well say there is no necessity for chicken or fish. We could live very well without either of them. People are entitled to be emotional; compassion is good. But you can’t hide the fact that whales belong to the animal kingdom, and as long as most people are prepared to eat other animals then we can’t see a big difference between eating whales and eating beef.

On the other hand, surveys suggest that there is now really very little demand for whale meat.
My understanding is that the whale meat that reached the Icelandic market was actually sold, so there must be some demand. Of course, there may sometimes be large stockpiles in the freezers, but that is because you have to supply the market through the year. But as Iceland increases its whaling they will look overseas, and export to Japan.

How can you justify killing the fin whale when it’s officially classified an endangered species?
The Icelandic population of fin whales is actually superabundant. International scientists agree on a total of around 25,000. That may actually be close to pre-exploitation levels centuries ago. It’s just wrong to say that it’s vulnerable or threatened with extinction. Iceland is capable of taking care of its natural resources when many other countries are not, as it has shown with [the preservation] of its cod stocks. The endangered status applies to the species as a whole and dates back to when there was heavy exploitation in the Southern Hemisphere, where the population was seriously depleted. But these are separate stocks which don’t mix. It’s like saying that the Chinese people are endangered because there are only a few in Iceland.

If that’s so, why were the fin whales ever listed as endangered?
It’s basically political. It makes a good sound bite—and a lot of journalists have swallowed that. The public has been misled. It doesn’t make sense to talk about a species being endangered rather than distinct populations.

If whaling continues, won’t Iceland’s image suffer, in particular, its tourism trade. Thousands of visitors now go Iceland just for whale watching.
People said the same after Iceland resumed scientific whaling in 2003. It didn’t happen. In fact the number of tourists increased. The same is true of Norway [after it also reintroduced scientific whaling]. We are living almost at the top of the world, close to the North Pole, and people will understand that this is how we make a living. We are seafaring people who harvest the bounty of the sea.

The whaling industry is small. Why does the issue generate such passion?
We consider this as an attack on our identity and our way of life. If we are told we are not allowed to use what is an abundant natural resource what will it be next?
Thumbs up to Rune.

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Whale meat stockpile update for August 2006 figures

Following on from my previous review of stockpile movements, I've added some more history as well as the most recent figures, for August. Figures for September should be out in another few weeks as well.

UPDATE 10/27: Just added some earlier months' data from 2005 into the table as well.

MonthStockpile size at previous month endIncoming stockOutgoing stockStockpile size at current month end
Feb '0532761563843048
Mar '0530481493602837
Apr '05283720503484539
May '0545391093184330
Jun '0543301453834092
Jul '0540928797454226
Aug '05422613257474804
Sep '0548042104504564
Oct '0545622075514220
Nov '0542201955253890
Dec '0538902476263511
* all figures in in tonnes

This year's August movements are roughly the same as last year's.

The stockpile at the end of August this year is 400 tonnes larger than at the same time last year, despite the approximate doubling of the minke whale sample size from 400 +/- 10% to 850+/-10% in the Antarctic, and the addition of 10 fin whales (2nd largest species), with the commencement of the JARPA II research programme. This seems to indicate that consumption has increased this year (consistent with news reports from Japan) but perhaps hasn't kept pace with the increase in supply.

Geishoku Labo reported a few days back that from the 19th of October, Nikkoku Trust would commence sales of whale meat lunches on menus for business place lunch catering. Apparently Geishoku-labo has other customers also soon to introduce it as well.

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Whale meat in high demand in Onagawa

Y/H-san kindly pointed me in the direction of a Japanese language news item, again providing evidence of demand for whale meat in Japan. Here is a translation:
Whale meat distribution: Up to 3 kilograms of red meat at 6,000 yen per household, residents form long queues - Onagawa / Miyagi

Onagawa's "whale meat distribution" began on the 23rd, with frozen red meat of minke whales taken in research whaling sold at bargain prices.

In response to the IWC's blanket ban on commercial whaling, the town has been acquiring several tonnes of red meat and blubber for the distribution via the Japanese Institute of Cetacean Research since 1995 .

Each household is limited to 3 kilograms of red meat (6,000 yen). This price is more than 50% below market prices, and this year again half of the households in the town, approximately 2,000 took up the offer. Long lines formed at each distribution point.

10/24 morning edition (Mainichi Shimbun)
Onagawa in Miyagi prefecture is home to one of Japan's historical whaling communities (Ayukawa), which is probably how they manage to qualify for this sweet deal through the ICR. The wholesale price of red meat is just slightly below 2,000 yen a kilogram, so the residents of the town are basically getting it at the wholesale price determined by the government. In general markets the price tends to be significantly higher due to retailer mark-ups.

2,000 households at 3 kilograms each is of course just 6 tonnes of meat. I understand similar distributions are offered in other traditional whaling regions, although the vast majority of meat is still put on to the general market.

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IWC Secretariat on Iceland issue

The IWC Secretariat has posted a fantastic summary of factual information regarding the recent news about Iceland.

The page details the background behind Iceland's reservation to the commercial moratorium, present status of RMS discussions, the IUCN "endangered" classification, and confirmation that indeed there are recently agreed estimates for the Fin Whale in the North Atlantic, a fact which New Zealand's conservation minister refuted, as I noted previously (just on that point, I heard from Chris Carter's secretary, and apparently a response to me is being prepared.)

Also, a note at the bottom of the IWC page reminds us that:
the Scientific Committee’s work on implementing the RMP would only allow it to make recommendations on safe removal limits for some stocks of common minke whale (in the North Atlantic and North Pacific). It is in the process of completing work on western North Pacific Bryde’s whales (*David: see note at bottom of page) and it will begin the final two years of work on North Atlantic fin whales next year.
Given that the IWC Scientific Committee will be able to provide advice within the next couple of years on Fin whale quotas in the North Atlantic, I assume that the Icelandic government will hold off on increasing quotas substantially before that time (Iceland's IWC representatives took great interest in this at this year's IWC plenary on Day 2). Once the implementation work is completed however, there is little reason to believe that Iceland would not issues permits up to the limits advised as sustainable by the IWC Scientific Committee.

This then raises a question: Does it even matter if the moratorium on commercial whaling is never overturned?

Iceland will almost certainly issue permits, regardless of the politics at the IWC, and they will have plenty of scientific backing for their actions, even if there is not 75% political support.

Again, the situation is that whaling nations are going to hunt whales, whether the anti-whaling nations like it or not. The anti-whaling nations have nothing to gain by maintaining the status quo. They must now accept the reality of the situation, and compromise on a practical RMS to regulate whaling to ensure the proper conservation of whale resources is not left to individual nations to police by themselves.

On the other hand, by maintaining the current situation, Japan remains unable to resume commercial whaling, as it no longer has a valid objection to the moratorium. Given that Japan has always been the main focus of anti-whaling attention, the anti-whaling politicians may decide that it is in their interests to simply depict Iceland and Norway as rogues (while running the risk that they do go and set unsustainable catch-limits), but at least prevent Japan from a commercial whaling resumption in Antarctic and North Pacific waters. Overall, the current situation with only scientific whaling still sees significantly lower numbers of whales being killed than under a scenario where the IWC actually implemented the RMP for various stocks.

Yet another scenario might see Japan repeat Iceland's move of temporarily withdrawing from the IWC, and then returning with a reservation to the unnecessary commercial whaling moratorium. Now that would cause a big kafuffle!

UPDATE: Some additional information from nature.com:
There are estimated to be 25,000 fin whales in the North Atlantic, which is thought to be more than 70% of the pre-exploitation level, says Vikingsson. "You can't say that there is a danger of extinction," he says — not in the North Atlantic.

The minke whale is classified as 'near threatened'. Vikingsson says the Icelandic population is thought to be at 90% pre-exploitation levels.
I haven't seen official IWC endorsed estimates of pre-whaling abundance of these stocks in the Icelandic region, but given that the figures of current abundance that they reported have been clearly endorsed on the IWC's homepage, I will assume that they are correct on this point as well.

* * *

(*) Information on the first workshop for the North Pacific Bryde's whale implementation can be found in this report. Worth reading if you are interested in the process the Scientific Committee goes through to produce advice on catch quotas. The completion of this particular work will serve as yet more scientific ammunition for the Japanese delegation at next year's IWC meeting.

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The market for Iceland's whale meat

There has been much speculation about what Iceland will do with the whale meat from it's new commercial hunt, with anti-whaling NGOs questioning whether a market exists for it.

The answer is clear today (from New Scientist):
Trade in minke meat between Iceland and Japan is legally possible, since both countries have a reservation on this species under the Convention in Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), says Moronuki.
Further (from IcelandReview):
Hvalur 9, the Icelandic whaler, caught its first fin whale off the coast of Snaefellsnes peninsula on Saturday.

According to captain and shooter, Sigurdur Njálsson, the 60-ton beast died immediately. The whale meat, around 20 tons, will be sold to Japan. This is reported in all the main media.
I have to take it to mean that Japan has a reservation on the fin whale species under CITES, as well as for the minke species, if it is to take the meat from Iceland.

This will make the anti-whaling NGOs furious, given that they have convinced themselves recently that there is "no demand" for whale meat in Japan (a clear fallacy). A successful trade operation will prove them wrong.

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More US support for whaling regulations

The Los Angeles Times has run an editorial on whaling, and notes that
"the current system — an undefined temporary ban — isn't feasible anymore"
The editorial concludes:
"If the world agrees that limited hunting of recovered stocks should be legalized (a big if), countries should draw up a clear regulatory system based on reasonable quotas according to region and species. If whaling is just too abhorrent for activists, they should lobby the United Nations for a permanent ban. Because letting the status quo unravel is a recipe for bringing back whaling, like it or not."
This is reminiscent of the comments of incoming IWC Chairman Bill Hogarth of the USA, who said after the conclusion of IWC 58 in St. Kitts this year that
"What the United States wants to do is try to find a way to protect whales but at the same time recognize some harvest".
The US is to be commended on this pragmatic, realistic approach. Of course, they have little choice given that the US plans to argue for a continued bowhead whaling quota for it's own people next year.

Elsewhere, IWMC President Eugene Lapointe, commented on the lack of progress at the IWC in establishing regulatory systems, saying in a press statement that
"It is the anti-whaling countries and animal rights groups that have hamstrung the IWC and prevented it from doing its job. Iceland set a reasonable target date for the IWC to establish a management system but the usual suspects thought they could be clever and delay progress forever. They were wrong. When you equivocate endlessly, the world has a tendency to move on without you."

Several years ago a survey conducted by Responsive Management indicated that moves to establish regulated whaling of abundant whale species would not be offensive to most Americans under certain conditions.

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USA seeking new whaling permit

KTVA reports that the USA is looking for a new permit for it's people to kill hundreds of Bowhead whales over the next decade (full article reproduced below):
NOAA Fisheries says it has begun the process of setting new bowhead whale subsistence harvest quotas for 2008, to 2017. The current quota expire at the end of 2007. That quota was set by the International Whaling Commission. It determined that up to 255 whales could be landed between 2003, and 2007. The new quota also will be determined by the IWC.

The commission is expected to meet in Anchorage in May of 2007. During that time, it will consider reauthorizing the western Arctic bowhead quota for another five years. NOAA is soliciting public comment. More information can be found on the Web at www.fakr.noaa.gov/protectedresources/whales/bowhead/

According to IWC endorsed estimates, the stock of Bowhead whales that the Americans will be taking their harvest from numbers around 8,200 to 13,500 (as of 2001) with a rate of increase of about 3.2% per year.

The USA will likely be looking for a continuation of their current permit, which would see around 60 Bowhead whales killed each year.

By comparison, in the commercial fin whale hunt recently permitted by Iceland, the catch limit is for just 9 fin whales out of a stock estimated to be around 25,000, and also growing at a much faster rate of around 10% annually.

Given that Iceland's commercial hunt of fin whales clearly has a lower impact on the environment than the USA's bowhead whaling operation, we can but look forward to the reaction from the anti-whaling NGO groups when the US quota is confirmed next year.

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Ian Campbell makes yet another ridiculous statement

According to The Australian, Ian Campbell is reported to have said that
"without anything else going wrong, fin whales were close to extinction."
This is inspite of IWC Scientific Committee apparently having endorsed the estimate being reported by Iceland of 25,800 fin whales in Iceland's waters, and the IWC Scientific Committee recognising 10% growth in the stock between 1987 and 2001 (as I noted previously). It's hard to see a species going extinct when in that part of the world it is growing that strongly over such a sustained period of time.

What does Ian Campbell think is going to push these whales to extinction? Has he got any maths to explain his ideas?

In the same article, Campbell is also reported to have said:
"They [Iceland] can't be taken seriously on any environmental issue in the future"
Given his own statements, such talk is extremely ironic.

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Iceland to resume commercial whaling

That's right, just off the news wires, Iceland is going to join Norway and recommence commercial whaling.

In the year to August 2007 it seems a commercial permit will be granted that will allow the taking of 30 minke whales and 9 fin whales.

In recent weeks news surrounding Iceland's commercial whaling has been swirling around. Back in early September Kristján Loftsson, the managing director of the Iceland commercial whaling operation that has just been granted the permit criticised the Icelandic government for it's handling of the issue:
"It is unbelievable that our politicians are so slow in allowing whaling to be resumed, in spite of all the advice that says this is safe. The Marine Research Institute's figures expect 200 minkes, 200 fin whales and 100 sei whales to be caught annually for scientific purposes, which is around the same amount that we were catching when we had all four ships at sea. We need to have licences to catch 150 to 200 fin whales to be able to start the factory up again", he said.

"I really do not understand why all this research is being carried out when the results are ignored. Research shows that the sei whale stock is very strong and can support exploitation. It's as if our politicians are giving the scientists at the Marine Research Institute the finger by not following their advice. If the same example was followed in fisheries, we would have to bring fishing to a halt for hundreds of years. Politicians are very conservative in their thinking as regards whaling, while they are prepared to push fisheries right to the edge"
Just yesterday another report appeared suggesting that he was ready for action if the government would just give the go ahead.

Well, his wishes look as if they will come true, although progress seems as if it will be slow - we can only assume that this initial quota is just the beginning. Given that the IWC has finally showed some signs of normalizing it's management of whaling this year, the Iceland government is probably hoping not to jeopardize any hopes of progress at the IWC by setting such small quotas.

When Iceland rejoined the IWC several years ago with an official objection to the part of the IWC Schedule that prescribes zero catch limits ("the moratorium"), they stated that they wouldn't resume commercial whaling before 2006 at the earliest, and they've stuck to their word in that regard.

This will hopefully provide the neutral nations at the IWC with even further evidence that it is in the best interests of global whale stock conservation for a Revised Management Scheme to be completed sooner, rather than later.

UPDATE: Here is the statement from the Icelandic Fisheries Ministry.

UPDATE 2 (10/18): Some additional information regarding the fin whale stock in question, from the IWC Scientific Committee report for IWC 58 (see pages 12 and 13):

1) A Scientific Committee RMP workshop on fin whales held recently

"agreed on best estimates of current abundance in the Central North Atlantic ... and the eastern North Atlantic"

Yet, in New Zealand, dear old Chris Carter (Minister of Conservation) has tried to tell his voters otherwise, saying that

"there is not yet scientific consensus on fin numbers. The IWC's scientific committee is reviewing the population status of fin whales at present. It is fair to say there is widespread disagreement."

So, Chris Carter is caught telling lies again (that's what politicians are for, I suppose). I'll be writing to his press secretary to inform him of this.

2) Regarding the natural rates of increase in the relavent area:

"The Workshop had noted that estimated abundance west and southwest of Iceland increased at an annual rate of 10% (95% CL: 6% - 14%) between 1987 and 2001. This is the area where nearly all Icelandic fin whaling has been conducted since 1915."

These are the facts, straight out of the IWC Scientific Committee report, yet politicians and anti-whaling NGOs are failing to inform the public of this in their propaganda.

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Southern Bluefin Tuna quota cut

Earlier this year there was quite a hoohaa when an Australian representative had his comments on a Southern Bluefin Tuna overfishing investigation leaked to the media. The CCSBT (The international management cooperative set up for southern bluefin tuna) homepage noted at the time that these matters were still under investigation.

The CCSBT has just concluded their 2006 meeting, and while their homepage hasn't been updated with any of the meeting information yet, the media is reporting that as expected the quota has been cut due to over-fishing attributed to Japanese operators (this was reported in the Japanese media earlier in the month). Reports indicate that Japanese operators are to bear the bulk of the cut to compensate for past over-fishing.

In 2005, Japan exceeded its 6,065 ton quota of southern bluefin tuna by 1,500 tons, which a Fisheries Agency official said had helped contribute to the decision that cut Tokyo's quota to 3,000 tons for five years from 2007.

"There is also a possibility that Japan may have overfished a bit in other years besides 2005 as well," the official added, citing surveys by fishing experts.

"Therefore we had no choice but to accept the decision."


The Fisheries Agency official blamed Japan's previous overfishing mainly on sloppy record-keeping, adding that fishing rules were toughened earlier this year to combat the practice.

Up until this year, Japanese ships sent in periodic reports on their catches to the Fisheries Agency, which declared the season over when the quota was met.

Under the new rules, which took effect in April, each fishing company was allotted a specific quota and will be required to tag each fish showing when and where it was caught.

Ships are also permitted to unload their catch only at specific harbors, with violations punished by forbidding ships from leaving harbor, up to two years' prison and a fine.

It is still too early to say how much Japan has fished this year, the official said, adding that Japan voluntarily cut its quota from 6,065 tons to 4,500 tons to make up for 2005's overfishing.

The Australian media is full of commentary (ABC, The Australian), reporting the story with a much more "Australian" (critical) slant than Reuters and other international media.

Naturally, over-fishing must be punished if we are to have properly and sustainably managed use of marine resources, so in recognising past over-fishing the Japanese government has taken the appropriate measures by a) putting in place new measures earlier this year to try to address the issue and b) accept cuts for the next 5 years to compensate.

However, the question for me is how will the Japanese government implement the cuts. Have they identified the operators who were responsible for the over-fishing? Or will the whole Japanese industry bear the cuts as a result? One hopes that the dirty operators can be traced.

Meanwhile, in the Japanese media reports are that the quota cut is certain to put upward pressure on SBT prices. Legal annual supply will be down to just 11,000 tonnes (twice the whale meat stockpile).

Interesting to note that the SBT is regarded as "Critically Endangered" by the IUCN, yet Australia is happy for fishing to continue, while on the other hand they protested loudly when Japan announced that it would issue scientific permits for just 50 "Endangered" Fin whale with the start of the JARPA II research programme.

In reality, apparently the "Critically endangered" designation is widely disputed and regarded as being misleadingly negative, but it's useful to point out Australian double standards on the use of marine resources.



Best on Southern Right Whale increases

A continuation of the good news for the Southern Right Whale, from Dr. Peter Best:

The Southern Right Whale population off the Southern Cape coast is responding "optimally" to protection measures, researcher Pete Best said on Monday.

In a statement announcing the start on Tuesday of the latest of a series of annual aerial surveys of the migrant whales, he said this year's survey would be the 28th.

"During this period, 900 individual adult females have been identified, and the birth of some 2 700 calves has been recorded, and estimates of survival rate, age at maturity and calving interval obtained.

"It has also been possible to show that the population has been increasing steadily at seven percent a year throughout," he said.

This figure was based not only on direct census results but also on a population model independent of possible changes in the efficiency of the aerial survey.

"It has been demonstrated that this rate of increase is the maximum possible biologically, indicating that the population is responding optimally to protection," he said.

Best is attached to the Mammal Research Institute of the University of Pretoria, which will carry out the survey.

He said the survey covered a stretch of coast from Nature's Valley near Plettenberg Bay, to Cape Town.

Scientists would use the survey to photograph all the cow-calf pairs seen.

"As Southern Right Whales are individually recognisable from the pattern of wart-like callosities on their head, the photographs taken enable scientists to follow the reproductive history and survival of individual whales over many years," he said.

He said that though there was doubt about exactly how many Right Whales there were in the late eighteenth century when exploitation started, the best available evidence suggested that current numbers were about one sixth of their initial level.

He said the whales started to arrive off the Southern Cape coast in mid-winter, and were normally gone by the end of each year.

Some headed to feeding grounds in the South Atlantic between 40 and 55 degrees of latitude, while others went up the West Coast.

Best said it was possible some headed for the Indian Ocean.

Apparently individual Southern Right Whales calve once every three years.

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Slovenia's joining the IWC reported

Finally a western media source has noticed that Slovenia joined the IWC last month:
Slovenia, with a 46-kilometre Adriatic Sea coastline, has no history of whaling or whale-eating and is rarely visited by the mammals, but had protected them since 1993, said a government official, Andreja Kriz.

"Slovenia is actively involved in whale conservation," Ms Kriz said. "The only missing link was [a seat on the commission]."

The decision to join had been made because of Slovenia's more active involvement in the issue, she said.

Ms Kriz said Solvenia's membership of the EU obliged the country to protect wildlife, and imposed strict regulation on trade in whales and their products.
Slovenia is EU member, and thus obliged to protect wildlife, huh.
In Slovenia's hunting areas you can hunt brown bear, roe and red deer, wild boar, chamois, moufflon, fallow deer, small game (hare, pheasant, duck), and small predators (pine marten, fox, stone marten, badger).
Hmmm. So apparently hunting wildlife is actually OK, but whales (which don't visit Slovenia's 46km coastline in the first place) are to be protected? I wonder if Slovenia's officials really aren't able to spot the hypocrisy here.

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2006 Whale meat stockpile in context

A few days ago I looked at Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries statistics on frozen whale meat stocks.

Besides whale meat, stockpiles of other frozen marine products are also reported on the same monthly basis. Comparing the whale meat stockpile size with other marine products gives us some perspective about just how much (or little) the whale meat stockpile represents.

Here's the break-down of all frozen marine products for stocks held at the end of June 2006:

ProductProduct CodeStockpile (tonnes)% of total frozen marine product stocks
Mackerel2083 3368.10%
Salmon1378 6687.65%
Shrimp2876 1227.40%
Squid2973 9477.20%
Tuna660 2935.86%
Sardine1654 3625.29%
Pollock surimi3645 4874.42%
Other marine products3444 5434.33%
Shellfish2736 5733.56%
Other surimi3736 1993.52%
Bluefish1936 1813.52%
Pacific saury2135 2403.43%
Bonito1229 5492.87%
Herring1527 9182.71%
Octopus3323 4342.28%
Flounder2221 3362.07%
Trout1411 4181.11%
Cod239 0670.88%
Whale355 4900.53%
Sea bream255 4610.53%
Sword Fish113 4650.34%
Pollock243 4630.34%
Other fish products26226 96222.07%
Grand Total31 028 514

The anti-whaling propaganda would have us believe that whale meat, with around 5,000 tonnes in stock in July (shortly after the completion of the first year of JARPA II), is apparently in over-supply and can't be sold due to sluggish demand.

In the context above we see that, even at it's then relatively high level, the stockpile represented just half a percent of the total frozen marine products stockpile (more than a million tonnes in total), whereas for more widely established products such as Tuna, there was more than 10 times as much in stock.

One wonders if the anti-whaling propaganda would also have the world believe that Tuna isn't popular in Japan anymore either.

* * *

J-CAST News recently contacted the Fisheries Agency in response to reports in the Japanese media about whale meat and was told (Japanese article linked) that "there is no over-supply" of whale meat.

The same article also quoted a medium-sized wholesaler as saying "We're stocking it so that we can sell it, so it's incorrect to characterize it as over-supply".

The basis for such statements is quite clear looking at the whale meat figures in context, as above.

* * *

Historically, Japan's production of whale products hit 226,000 tonnes in 1962, but then as the IWC took action to protect over-exploited stocks, production rapidly fell. By March 1980 the whale meat stockpile is reported to have stood at just 10% of that amount at 22,157 tonnes (TRAFFIC). As we see from the Ministry's recent statistics, the stockpile is markedly smaller today even by 1980 standards, with just 3,610 tonnes in stock at the end of March 2006 (16% of the 1980 stockpile figure, and just 1.6% of the massive production in 1962).

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