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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



A look at "IWC Future" proposal draft

Anyone who has been following the whaling issue over the past few weeks will have probably seen the various news reports about activity that has been going on within the IWC in relation to the future of the organization.

Those who haven't can get up to speed by reading the IWC page here.

As of the 2nd February, a press release has been issued ahead of a further inter-sessional meeting in March, and the page above now includes a document relating to the work. Much has already been said in the western media about this after a copy was leaked to Australian media, and IWC Chair Bill Hogarth of the USA has also been speaking to media about it in advance of the release as well. But if you read my blog, you likely know this already.

In this post I'll take a look at what this apparently controversial draft proposal document has to say. The first two pages are an introductory piece from Alvaro de Soto, SWG Chairman, and I'm going to skip over those, and start from Appendix 1 on page 3.

Re: Chair's Suggestions on the Future of the International Whaling Commission

Reference is made in the first paragraph on page 3 to the state of the IWC, namely that it is
"beset by seemingly fundamental disagreements between Contracting Governments as to its nature and purpose." Indeed this is an accurate and fair statement, although it must be recognised that the intended nature and purpose of the IWC, as described in it's founding convention, is quite clear. Some current IWC signatory states are in denial about this. This is one of the major sources of problems at the IWC, I believe.

Next amongst other things it is suggested that failure to define the course of the IWC by broad agreement could "compromise ... the conservation status of whale populations". I personally think this risk is extremely low - no one in the pro-sustainable whaling bloc wishes to see the world return to the days of unregulated and unsustainable whaling, let alone target truly endangered whale stocks commercially. Japanese officials in particular have recently made reference to the the "Safety Net" initiative regularly in both English and Japanese communications (e.g. see here), and the option of establishing an alternative international organization in accordance with the UNCLOS has also been mentioned explicitly at the IWC by Akira Nakamae. On the other hand, I myself have mentioned the "potential risk" to the conservation status of whale populations to people of the anti-whaling persuasion who for one reason or another fear open-slather. The idea is to bait their good intentions and make them want to accept the IWC's role as a whaling management organization for fear of what might happen if the IWC continues not to fulfil it's mandate. That said, I've never seen any useful response to this tactic.

Back to the document, which however also suggests that at risk is "the continued relevance and credibility of the Commission as an effective global conservation and management body". This is a very fair statement, and I would agree with those who state that the IWC is currently about as endangered as any individual whale species one might care to name. But it is hard to imagine that the IWC can maintain it's relevance while the ICRW continues to not be interpreted in good faith.

Page 4 describes "the approach" to resolving the IWC issues. While four points for consideration are listed with regard to the development of "package" candidates, no real mention of non-endangered, relatively abundant whale species is made. This is problematic to my mind, because, as others have pointed out, one of the most fundamental disagreements at the IWC is what to do with such stocks. Of course everyone wants to see the over-depleted stocks recover.

Further down is one of the most disturbing and disappointing statements in the document:

"It is anticipated that under any result, the total number of whales killed will be reduced during the next five years."

Back on page 2 of the document, it is stated that "we have studiously avoided taking sides". I feel the statement above undermines this assertion of neutrality, and it also contradicts the ICRW itself, which says the following in it's preamble:
"Recognizing that the whale stocks are susceptible of natural increases if whaling is properly regulated, and that increases in the size of whale stocks will permit increases in the number of whales which may be captured without endangering these natural resources"
Why the draft proposal anticipates the total number of whales killed during the next 5 years being reduced is unclear to say the least, especially in light of natural increases in whale populations in certain parts of the world.

Furthermore, from the document's context, it would appear that this statement anticipating fewer whales being killed is with reference to whaling by Japan in particular. Although Japan is the nation permitting the highest levels of catch, Japan is by no means the only nation that permits whaling. The USA itself continues to permit whaling, as do Norway, Iceland, Denmark (Greenland), etc. If reducing the number of whales killed is a goal then this expectation should not be made only of Japan, or else the reasons why need to be rationally justified.

But the most disturbing thing about this statement is that it suggests catch limits be set not in light of scientific advice, but in light of what are clearly political considerations. The IWC has been there and done that already, with disastrous results. International management organizations should not be in the habit of arbitrarily setting quotas higher or lower depending on the political circumstances of the day. The decision about what numbers can be safely taken ought be left to scientific advisers. If it so happens that the advice is that lower quotas are appropriate, then so be it. But the absolute numbers should not be relevant to the political decision making. At the IWC the issue of the numbers of whales that can be taken sustainably, be it less, more or the same, must be left to the IWC's Scientific Committee without political interference. The politicians' role should be to determine the policy, and then they should leave the details of the implementation to the scientists. This seemed to be the approach adopted with the development of the Revised Management Procedure, but the draft proposal here appears to throw out that line of thought, despite it's useful feature of preventing politicians from meddling in areas where they do not belong.

One final comment on this. In terms of a proposal being acceptable to the Japanese public, consideration must be given to the availability of whale meat to consumers. Currently the bulk of the relatively low level of whale meat product supply (historically speaking) originates from the Japanese research programmes, and is consequently expensive, even if you can get it. Therefore, a candidate package would to my mind need to ensure limited effects on the level of whale meat supply to gather support from the Japanese public. Indeed, the hope of whale product consumers is that products are more widely available and cheaper in future. One must recall that research whaling was commenced by Japan with the goal of gaining a resumption of commercial whaling, which would enable more whale product production and consumption in Japan. Whale consumers in Japan are not going to be cheering on any proposals that make it even harder for them to obtain whale products. Therefore, any proposal to save the IWC that reduces overall numbers of whales taken (for political reasons) must also fulfil the condition of not resulting in decreases in whale product supply, or else it would not be politically feasible to support for the Japanese government. This might be achieved through reducing the numbers of smaller minke whales taken in exchange for increases in larger whales, if the IWC signatories could agree to go down such a route, but again scientific advice would need to support such an idea.

Moving along... another strange statement says that the interim provisions would need to be "consistent with the management objectives of the ICRW". As with the previous statement, it is hard to see how the draft proposal meets the ICRW's criteria, and the draft proposal itself earlier noted the fundamental disagreement about the nature and purpose of the IWC, which includes it's management objectives, at least where non-endangered, abundant stocks of whales are concerned.

* * *

Time is running out, so a brief look at some crucial bits...

Re: Element 6: Japanese small type coastal whaling

This part of the proposal from the bottom of page 4 describes possible whaling rights for Japan's coastal whalers. One of the scenarios suggested prescribes "constant catches for 5 years and 0 thereafter", while the other is for "constant catches for 5 years with the same level of catches thereafter".

I can appreciate that one of these options would be included in a possible package, but again one must refer back to the ICRW and what it says in it's preamble.

Furthermore, the proposal says that "all meat would be locally consumed". It is not clear whether "local" means "within Japan", or some kind of tighter restrictions. Comments above regarding Japanese whale consumers apply here as well.

Re: Element 23: Research under special permit

The document rightly notes the controversial nature of this item, where it is introduced on page 5. The "elimination" of special permit whaling is suggested as an option, although already today the Minster in charge on the Japan side has explicitly ruled this out. More realistically, in return for permitting some small type coastal whaling, the suggestion is made that "a significant reduction in the number of of whales taken under special permit during the interim period" be considered.

Two options are presented, it looks like one from each perspective.
"Option 1" is hard to make sense of. It suggests a phase-out of special permit whaling in the Antarctic over 5 years. If this was ever going to be acceptable to Japan then there's no point in phasing it - the number of data samples obtained through lethal methods would be reduced year after year making the data more and more useless until finally there was no data at all.
Yet, the same option also says that "All removal levels would be reviewed by the Scientific Committee and consistent with its recommendations." Why is the option prejudging the scientific advice and calling for a phase out of whaling before the recommendations are made? What if the recommendations confirm that Japan's removals do not adversely effect the populations?

"Option 2" seems to come from the different side. Essentially it also subjects the removal levels under special permit to "interim advice" from the Scientific Committee. This is more palatable, but one wonders what would happen in the case that the Scientific Committee is unable to agree on advice. The RMP might be used as a basis for the advice, which perhaps could facilitate this relatively quickly. Option 2 also allows for special permit catches in the western North Pacific. While this bit looks relatively palatable to me, it's obviously not going to be acceptable to the folks in the commercial anti-whaling industry.

* * *

That's it for now - lots of stuff I've skipped, but feel free to comment on the bits of the document that you do and don't like. I hope to revisit this further when I have more time.

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Hogarth is having a hard time...attacks from whalers as well as from anti whaling NGOs. The only person who has stated something positive about the proposal is Remi.

Remember that Greenpeace " praised" the same proposal a year ago , and said in a positive way that it was a radical proposal, now Hogarth is Bush's man!

The whalers never liked the " Irish proposal" , which was similar and had a very short life span. The whalers , read this in Harpoon , stated it was a tactic to divide and concour the whalers.
Yeah, basically this sort of proposal seems more about trying to find a way to make keeping the IWC on life-support worthwhile. But to get any agreement from the two sides on such a proposal as this will require one side or the other to severely compromise on their dearly held principles.

Even Japan's coastal whalers have been rejecting the idea of trading special permit research for their own quotas. They aren't opposed to seeing a reduction in special permit research in order to get their rights recognised as they should be, but not to the point that their government has to compromise on the fundamental principles which at the end of the day are shared with the coastal whalers. More on this from me a bit little, hopefully.
The Swedish Gov't position on the future of the IWC:

Thanks for sharing the info Ann. Still hoping to get enough time together to be able to write more from this side. Stay tuned.
By the way, this statement from the anti-whaling nations (including whaling nation USA?) was quite bizarre:

We call on Iceland to reconsider this decision and focus on the advancement of the Commission, and the long-term rather than short-term interests of the whaling industry.

Setting sustainable catch limits is, however, in the long term interests of the whaling industry. Overturning the decision would not be anything other than a sop to the anti-whaling nations.

But it is promising that they at least recognise that it is in the short term interests.
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