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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



IWC Annual plenary to start tomorrow

As per par, all sorts of talk in the media recently in the lead up to this week's IWC meeting in Morocco.

The IWC chair and vice chair have put together a proposal that they hope would see the IWC able to remain on life support for another 10 years while more time is taken to talk through (and hopefully resolve) the dispute between the members of the International Whaling Commission that agree with the object and purpose of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, and those other members of the Whaling Commission that disagree with object and purpose of the convention, despite being adhered to it notwithstanding their right to withdraw from it, as would be the honourable option.

If it were any other international convention this would sound utterly ridiculous, but when it comes to the IWC, what sounds contradictory to the unprejudiced eyes and ears has seemingly come to sound normal and reasonable, due to the perpetuation of the situation over the years.

I can't find the URL, but I remember there is a Hansard record or something from the British parliament dated in the early 1990's, and at the time it was clear that although the British politicians weren't fans of whaling, they at least accepted that the whaling nations were not being unreasonable to expect that the whaling commission would set catch quotas for whaling as they knew fully well that that is what the IWC is supposed to do, yet these days we see even relatively reasonable governments such as that in New Zealand arguing for no whaling at all, while in the same breath talking as if they are trying to negotiate something. There is no longer a proper recognition by these nations of what the IWC came into existence for.

Anyway, my view is that the IWC meetings are a big waste of time, and nothing is going to be resolved out of them. I see more potential for a resolution through the Kevin Rudd led Australian government's decision to take Japan to court over their issuance of special permits for research whaling operations in the international waters of the Southern Ocean.

Kevin Rudd seems to be using this for politics, as his party's popularity continues to slip in the local opinion polls ahead of the year-end election campaign. However at least in the media Kevin is adamant that the Japanese research programme in the Antarctic is commercial whaling in disguise, in spite of comments from IWC Scientific Committee members to the contrary. Good examples are the repeated acknowledgements from review committees acknowledging the potential of analyses of data obtained from the Japanese research programmes to improve management (anti-whalers ignore this information because it simply doesn't help their argument). A paper from a Denmark based Age Dynamics specialist presented to the just concluded IWC Scientific Committee meeting noted at it's outset that "Analyses of the combined commercial and JARPA catch-at-age data have provided robust indication of trends in minke whale recruitment which have important implications for understanding of the population’s dynamics." Clearly this information exists and is relevant to the IWC Scientific Committee's work, yet rather than be commended for it's contribution in accordance with the terms of the whaling convention, Japan suffers criticism from the anti-whalers that should have withdrawn from the whaling convention years ago.

Therefore, if the Australians do push ahead with their court case even after the Rudd government loses power later this year, it has the potential to be a massive blow to the legitimacy of the anti-whaling nations' arguments if they do indeed lose the case, which to my mind seems pretty much certain. I suspect that the Japanese too will quietly be looking forward to pursuing this path if next week's IWC meeting does end in it's typical annual failure. The Japanese have in the past gathered legal advice of their own regarding IWC issues such as the ostensibly temporary moratorium and the Southern Ocean Sanctuary. One of the issues noted at the time of that legal workshop was the difficulty that would be had finding an anti-whaling nation willing to go to the ICJ. Australia seems to have volunteered.

Anyway, a quick look at some articles that have appeared.

This from AFP in Ayukawa:
Furuuchi, in his 60s, says the supply of whale meat has dropped even more this year since environmental activists managed to drastically reduce the cull through a campaign of harassment in the past Antarctic hunting season.

"Whale meat consumption is low because there is no supply, not because there is no demand," the sushi seller said. "If the meat was available and cheaper, I would actively serve it. People who want to eat whale will come."

"The best parts are sold in the fancy restaurants in the cities. We only get the less tasty parts," said Toshihiro Saito, 59, a shopkeeper working in what used to be called "Whale Road," today a largely shuttered street.

Many locals, including Furuuchi, say they would favour a proposal before the IWC this week which would legitimise Japanese commercial whaling in its coastal waters in return for a phased reduction of its Antarctic hunt.

"Coastal minkes have very tender meat," he said. "If we could hunt some 100 or 200 of them, I think demand and supply would be well balanced.

"Whaling in the Antarctic won't help revive the local economy. The frozen meat is black and hard. It just doesn't work for sushi. It's not very good."

I think the New York Times also had a piece from this town some weeks ago which drew some attention.

However these folks have got it wrong, in my view. Phasing out whaling in the Antarctic is a loser on multiple counts.

1) Were the Antarctic whaling to end, anti-whaling groups will go after the remaining targets. Anti-whalers need to continue their campaigns to sustain their own livelihoods, and they will only step up the pressure further if given a sniff. Coastal based whaling operations will become the next focal point, one way or another. Problems that are not addressed at their core will simply fester.

2) As noted in the article, whale meat supply in Japan has been lower over the past few years due to the government's failure to adequately protect the operations from illegal interference by anti-whaling groups. Were the Antarctic hunts to be scaled back further, as is suggested by the chair's proposal, as a consequence for the whale meat markets, supply will be even further constrained. Catches from coastal whaling are not likely to be so high as to compensate in terms of whale meat supplied. As such, what supply there is will go to the highest bidders and whale cuisine will become even more of a hard to come by luxury. I spoke with one whale meat dealer in Tokyo about this some time ago and he was in full agreement with me on this point.

3) If any whale species is able to sustain a harvest, it's the Antarctic minke whale. Were conservation of whale stocks at the forefront of people's minds, the IWC proposal would be to limit whaling to this species and continue protections for others that are still recovering from past exploitation. This ideal is noted in the convention itself: "... whaling operations should be confined to those species best able to sustain exploitation in order to give an interval for recovery to certain species of whales now depleted in numbers." This is not to say that the common minke whales that the Japanese coastal whaling operations would target could not also sustain a level of harvest, but it does seem that the Antarctic minke whale has superior abundance and thus from a conservation perspective catches ought not be disproportionately balanced towards less abundant species for political expediency.

4) The frozen meat isn't as good as fresh sashimi, but it's still good enough!

Surprisingly on point 2), TVNZ appears to concur.
... with demand for whale meat growing [in Japan], it may not have enough incentive to reduce its slice of the catch.
This proposal should not be about either side winning or losing. It's about seeing whether both sides can settle this issue down for 10 years. I think Japan will be foolish to offer to cut back quotas as far as has been proposed, but if the anti-whalers are sincere then they should accept some level of cuts.

However, ultimately the IWC proposal disregards science, disregards the international convention for the regulation of whaling (I sympathize with Korea's comments), and is just very very political in nature.

At a time when the IWC should be unwinding some of the messy knots that have been created over the last 30 years, this is the wrong direction for things to be going, in my opinion. Until whaling regulations are based on principles and sound science we are going to continue to have disagreements.

Parties ought to be looking carefully at the convention they have signed. Some should clearly leave the IWC, rather than continue to block the IWC from it's expected functions. If this fails to happen, the rest ought reserve their own rights.

Lots more that could be said... but as I noted the IWC is a waste of time :)

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I have written a comment on whaling on my blog:
I saw right now that the negotations broke down. Exactly what was waited for. A circus indeed and waste with money and time.

Futile is the word, we should focus on real problems instead..

and the whalers should leave to NAMMCO, tired of the same recycling year after year...
Hi Ann,

Yes and it's now ridiculous to see the anti-whalers sit there and talk about needing more time to cool off.

Like that will change anything.

Rinse and repeat next year.

The strategy is simply to keep the whaling nations at the IWC but never give them anything. When they do quit the anti-whaling strategy (to the potential detriment of whale conservation and management) will just criticise the whaling nations despite their own intransigence being the root of all the problems.

Let's forget it. Hope the whaling nations just get on with it.
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