Notes from the 54th IWC Meeting
From the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society - May, 2002
Day 1 - Report from Japan
The IWC's Commission meeting opened in Shimonoseki at 10 am. Two Japanese ministers made speeches - both strongly supportive of whaling and noting the long whaling history of the host town. Then the mayor made a nice welcoming speech and shortly after this the trouble started.
The chairman, Bo Fernholm, a Swedish Professor, started to ask for speeches from the new member countries, several of whom had joined in the last few weeks. However, this process was interrupted by calls to discuss the difficult issue of the membership of Iceland. This same issue had come last year and had taken up almost all of the first day of the annual meeting. The difficulty presented in 2001 was that Iceland had attempted to take a reservation to the moratorium on whaling as an integral part of its application to re-join the Commission.
Again Iceland's attempt was not successful, but had it been Iceland would not have been bound by the moratorium and could have legally resumed commercial whaling. It would also have set a very dangerous precedent, both for the IWC and other agreements that a member disagreeing with one of the Commission's decisions could resign, take a 'turn around the block' and rejoin with a reservation against the offending provision.
So, in 2001, despite the support for Iceland from other whaling nations, it failed to rejoin with a reservation. Instead it was invited to participate as an observer. Nine months later, Iceland tried again to join with the same reservation.
The chair stated that his ruling of last year should stand. A fierce debate followed but with a rather predictable line up of speakers on either side. The UK for example noted that Iceland was a very important partner to it in many other international fora but said that it could not welcome Iceland to rejoin the IWC with a reservation, and that Iceland had to abide by the rules like anyone else.
After a long series of exchanges, the Chairman stated that his ruling (in 2001) - that Iceland was an observer - still stood. His, and the Commission's, authority to make such a ruling was challenged and the debate raged to and fro until it was put to the vote and the challenge to his original ruling in 2001 failed by a few votes.
The Chair, Bo Fernholm, was then, finally, able to ask the new countries to make their opening statements. San Marino, Portugal, Benin, Palau, Gabon and Mongolia then spoke. Unfortunately, the early voting of the last four countries indicates that they support whaling.
After the lunch-break, the Iceland issue again came back to haunt the Commission and Norway issued another challenge to the Chairman's ruling. He put his motion to close an agenda item to a vote and, despite interruptions from Japan, the Commission supported his ruling by several votes.
A discussion of the meeting agenda then followed and Japan made a long intervention during which it suggested that several agenda items should be deleted: namely whale watching, 'whale killing methods', environment and health, small cetaceans and 'trade matters'. Norway gave Japan some support and several other countries spoke out in support of keeping the agenda items (especially whale watching - which was referred to as a truly sustainable use of whales).
Finally, the agenda was left as it was and business proceeded.
The meeting then moved onto the issue of Secret Ballots. Japan proposed that votes should be conducted in secret to protect the 'sovereignty of vulnerable nations'. However, following a short debate, the extent of which even was put to a vote, Japan was again defeated .
Mexico, noting that the Chairman had earlier asked that resolutions should not be repeated every year, pointed out that this was the fifth or sixth year that the secret ballot had been proposed.
The day ended with a report by the Scientific Committee Chair, Dr Zeh, on the work of the IWC Scientific Committee this year on whale stocks. The hottest topic here was the uncertainty surrounding a population estimate for the southern hemisphere minke whale population. New Zealand expertly drew attention to a note in the Scientific Committee report that the population estimate from the latest circumpolar survey was only 46% of the previous one. Zeh confirmed that the Committee still had no explanation for this and that the results of the latest ongoing survey were expected to be helpful.
Various speakers emphasised that the old population estimate (760,000) no longer stood and should no longer be quoted.
Concerns were raised that the apparent population decline could be the result of unprecedented environmental changes in Antarctica and that the precautionary principle should be invoked and that whale hunting (under any name) should cease.
Day 1's votes
Day 2 - A day of drama and disappointment
Day two of the 54th Meeting of the International Whaling Commission began with a declaration from Iceland that the IWC Chair's ruling from the previous day - that Iceland only be permitted to participate as an observer while their reservation stands - was, in their opinion, 'illegal', and in a dramatic gesture they walked out of the Commission into the arms of waiting media.
Small type coastal whaling
Japan's proposal to allocate a relief quota of 50 minke whales caused contention in the Commission. Japan's intent to increase its North Pacific Scientific Whaling Program to include a further 50 minke whales was noted in the context of this proposal as coincidentally the same amount of relief quota being requested.
The proposal was matched with eloquence by the Mexican Commissioner who stated that not only was the status of the North Pacific minke whale in serious doubt but the intent of Japan to harvest these whales seemed to stand against 13 consecutive years of Commission rejection. After protracted debate, Japan was asked that if the relief quota was allocated, would they reduce their scientific take. Their reply indicated they would not and their proposal subsequently failed.
Indian Ocean Sanctuary
The Scientific Committee's report of its review of the Indian Ocean Sanctuary was discussed. Pro-whaling interests attempted to discredit the Indian Ocean Sanctuary as irrelevant, but they were not able to mount a strong enough defence to stand against Kenya, Mexico, Monaco, India, Australia, Germany, New Zealand and Brazil, who all called on the Commission to heed the will of the Indian Ocean Range States to maintain the sanctuary indefinitely. The Indian Ocean Sanctuary remains.
South Pacific Sanctuary
The South Pacific Sanctuary Proposal was introduced for the third time by the Australian and New Zealand delegations. Continuing the argument from the Indian Ocean Sanctuary debate, both Parties spoke to the scientific merit, economic benefit and above all the will of the South Pacific range States. The South Pacific Regional Forum also spoke about the significance of the Sanctuary proposal to its members States. Although strong support was evident the vote once again failed to gain a three-quarter majority.
South Atlantic Sanctuary
The South Atlantic Sanctuary was introduced by the Brazilian delegation. Sadly, debate was curtailed by the Chair, significant support was indicated through interventions, however the vote once again failed to gain a three-quarter majority.
Day 2's Key votes
Day 3 - Shimonoski dawned grey and wet
This was entirely reflective of the mood of the meeting. Two serious issues were scheduled for consideration: aboriginal subsistence quotas and two proposed texts for the RMS (the Revised Management Scheme - the management procedure for commercial whaling, which has been the focus of long and difficult negotiations.
Despite the enormous efforts made by many people from all over the world to attend and observe the IWC annual meetings and despite much rhetoric about transparency, much of the work of the Commission still goes on behind closed doors.
The day started with one example of this when the Commissioners from all the member nations met in a closed session. The issue of their discussion, we believe, was aboriginal quotas.
The third day of plenary then opened a little after 9am with consideration of the SLA (the "Strike Limit Algorithm") for bowhead whales. This is the mathematical device developed to calculate an aboriginal quota for the bowheads. The SLA has been developed over a number of years by the IWC Scientific Committee and before it was formally adopted some very interesting and important comments were made about it by the US and the UK.
This is the first time that a SLA for any whale stock has been recommend by the Scientific Committee to the Commission. The US proposed that the bowhead SLA should be adopted in principle but that adoption of the Aboriginal Whaling Management Regime (AWMP) would be "premature". As it is far from clear what the AWMP actually constitutes, this seemed wise and the US was supported by the UK which noted, in addition, that further testing of the SLA against environmental changes seemed to be needed.
The SLA was adopted by the Commission, the only sour note coming from Japan which suggested that double standards were in play because if the RMP (the quota calculation system for commercial whaling) was applied to the bowheads it would give a zero catch whereas the SLA, for the same time period gave 60 animals.
The public debate about the other aboriginal quotas then started with a forceful comment from Mexico. Mexico questioned the request from the Makah tribe of the United States for a take of gray whales and emphasised that every time the Commission granted an aboriginal quota it was an exception to paragraph 10e (which defines the whaling moratorium). He noted that there was no consensus in the tribe itself and that the Makah's Needs Statement (the elaboration of its application) has never been sanctioned by the Commission.
The debate continued with requests to change the order in which the quotas were to be decided. This idea was promoted by the whaling nations who wished to see how the US and its allies would vote on the awful issue of the St Vincent and the Grenadines' humpback quota. This would help them to decide whether or not they would support the twinned-request from Russia and the US for gray whales.
The debate was difficult. Eventually, a vote reconfirmed the Chair's ruling that the quotas would be considered in their original order - bowheads first, then gray whales, then humpbacks. Many of the parties then said many things at a range of volumes. Eventually, the US requested an adjournment for a Commissioners' meeting and the Commissioners again slipped away again into a back room to try to make a deal.
Quite some time later (almost two hours, in fact) the Commissioners streamed back into the room. It was suggested that consensus had been reached and that quotas had been agreed. However, Japan suddenly commented that they could not join the consensus. This seemed to take the rest of the Commission by surprise. Mexico then asked to speak and told the world that consensus had been reached in the closed meeting by all parties except Japan and that they were disappointed by Japan's stance. A Carribbean country then quickly took to the floor and suggested that consensus had, in fact, nearly but not quite been reached when the Commissioners' meeting had broken up. Despite this statement, it is clear who was being obstructive on this difficult issue.
As there was no consensus rather than prolonging the public debate, the meeting then completed consideration of the report provided by the Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling Sub Committee and the meeting then closed. This left the aboriginal quotas and the even more contentious issue of the RMS texts to be further debated during the Commissioners-only closed reception in the evening.
One proposed version of the RMS comes from Japan - a weak and meaningless document that would do no more than camouflage the absence of any real controls over whaling if it was accepted. However, Japan clearly wishes to put it forward so that it can say that it presented, what they would call, a 'reasonable' text that other countries rejected. It may even hope that this weak text will gain the necessary majority.
The other text comes from a number of 'middle ground' countries, led by Sweden (the Chair of the Commission) with no direct interest in whaling but who appear to believe that a different text should be presented to the meeting. (For those that can remember it, this is rather similar to a proposal last year for RMS text.)
This second text pays lip-service to many issues that would need to be included in any whaling management regime but doesn't do so particularly well. If it were to be given a score against an exemplary document, we would probably give it 3 or 4 out of ten. (And a minus score for the sham Japanese text.)
WDCS is concerned and disappointed to see either of these texts come forward as the Commission is currently engaged in an important process of negotiation of - yet another version - of the RMS drafted by an 'Expert Drafting Group' that includes Japan and Sweden. We can expect the Japanese text to be voted down (RMS text requires a 75% vote to be accepted anyway) but it remains to be seen what will happen to the Swedish text. It is possible that the meeting may close tomorrow (probably late at night) with a commercial whaling management regime adopted. Having been set back at every turn so far at this meeting, Japan will finally have the victory it needs for its home audience. It almost won't matter which text gets adopted as both versions anticipate the continuation of scientific whaling in addition to whaling under the RMS, and objections can be lodged to any unpalatable provisions anyway.
Japan and Norway will then be able to continue whaling - in any way that they see fit (as they do now) - whilst also being able to say that the IWC has agreed that sustainable whaling is endorsed by the relevant international body. Others will almost certainly join them and the resumption of international trade in whale meat will become an inevitability.
Almost at the end of play on Wednesday, during the initial public debate on aboriginal quotas, the British Fisheries Minister, Elliot Morley, suddenly made a dramatic announcement. He said that one of his NGOs had recently purchased some whale meat in Japan and that the labels showed it had been imported. The countries of origin were identified as Greenland and Russia.
As international trade in whale meat is strictly forbidden under CITES, this obviously called into question again all the exiting legislation that is meant to keep illegal products out of the Japanese market place.
Norway commented, rather bluntly, that this issue was wasting the Commission's time and was not of relevance to the Commission. The UK Commissioner disagreed, voicing great concern at the premise that controlling the market-place was not a matter of interest for the Commission.
The whale meat imports caused tremendous media interest in Japan and beyond, with the Minister and the whale meat being much photographed.
Russia, Greenland and Japan all asked for samples of the meat - slices of frozen fine-cut blubber in plastic packs. Meanwhile, the polystyrene box holding the meat was quietly removed to a place of safety, so that the samples could be equitably distributed to all interested parties.
There are a few points in the report of the Aboriginal Subsistence Management Group that deserve further airing and which we will note here:
Concerning the St Vincent and the Grenadines quota request for four humpback whales: the Committee commented:
Now the emphasis here should be seen to be in the first part of the sentence, because what the Committee is reminding the Commission is that we don't know where the population that whales being killed in Bequia belong to begins and ends. Quotas would not normally be allocated for an aboriginal take from a population that is not properly understood.
This hunt takes place on the humpbacks' breeding grounds. Calves are harpooned by whalers and, dead or dying, lure their mother close to the hunters so that she too can be killed. St Vincent has long been requested not to practice this technique any longer (in fact it is forbidden by IWC regulations) but the relevant progress report this year, again shows that a smaller and then a larger animal were captured again this year. There is some dispute about the sizes of the animals captured as the official report seems to indicate that they are larger than eyewitness reports that indicate that a calf was again taken. (The UK indicated in the Sub-Committee that it had seen a photograph that showed the smaller animal to be a calf).
In fact, there is a long litany of problems with this hunt - in effect refusals or failures to play by the rules - that date back over the years. See St. Vincent briefing. Basically, the Commission is again being requested to ignore these issues and endorse a new bigger quota for four animals.
Day 3's votes
In addition to an appeal to a ruling by the chair that the order of consideration of the aboriginal quotas should remain unchanged, which failed (16 for/23 against/5 abstentions), there were several procedural votes which shall be detailed at a later date.
Day 4 - Where did that whalemeat come from?
On the morning of the fourth day of the IWC plenary, the meeting opened and then closed rather rapidly and the Commissioners regrouped in yet another closed session. This followed what was probably the most dramatic vote in the IWC history. For the first time ever, an aboriginal quota was voted down.
First, however, we were entertained by an entirely predictable debate on one of the curious issues at the IWC: the contentious issue of whale watching. The Chair of the Scientific Committee, Dr Judy Zeh, delivered the Committee's report on its work relating to whale watching. This is one of the many areas where Japan and friends dispute that the IWC has any competency.
Zeh reported on the good progress being made on developing a scheme for data collection from whale watch vessels (an area of scientific endeavour within the Commission where WDCS is playing a significant role) and the proposal for an international conference about whale watching.
The report received a series of supportive comments from Brazil, Australia, the UK and the US. Austria also indicated its strong support and, picking up on part of the report that dealt with boat and other marine noise sources, asked a question about Low Frequency Active Sonar of the US (i.e. the powerful military sonar that has caused much concern world-wide because of its possible implications for whales and dolphins). The US (one of the LFAS-using countries) promised to respond on this enquiry later, noting that a public consultation process was ongoing back home.
Then the meeting resumed the discussions on the twinned-Russian aboriginal quota. No consensus had been reached, so the Commission preceded to a vote.
Thanks to the surprising (or perhaps not) opposition of the developing-countries-co-ordinated-by-Japan, the request failed to gain the three quarters majority vote needed. This induced a series of strong statements deploring the fact that countries had failed to recognise the urgent needs of the people's concerned and instead were playing politics with people's lives. The resounding comment from the UK Commissioner invoked a round of applause from some of the rows of otherwise voiceless Non-Governmental Organisations filling the back of the hall.
After this heated debate, the meeting adjourned and the Commissioners headed back into closed session to try again to find a way to resolve the issue. A little while later one returned to the plenary hall expressing disgust at what was going on in the closed meeting. Lunchtime came and went. Various lost souls drifted around the hall, including many delegates and many angry representatives of aboriginal peoples who earlier protested that they had been stabbed in the back.
At almost 4 pm, most Commissioners were back in their seats. However, the debate of aboriginal quotas did not resume.
Instead we moved to the RMS debate. (You will recall from yesterday that there are two texts on the table - one from Japan and one from Sweden.) The Scientific Committee Chair gave the latest update on one vital component of the RMS, the RMP (the system that calculates the quota). Instead of giving this very important matter the serious discussion that it deserved, Norway decided to draw attention to that part of the Scientific Committee report that commented on the decision from the UK to ban the Norwegian whale survey from its waters. Had the UK changed its mind? The UK thanked Norway for bringing this matter to the Commission's attention. It noted that the UK's reason for refusing to allow the survey to take place was explained last year. The alternate Commissioner then added that the fact that Norway now proposed to again modify their version of the RMP would also be taken into account. (This modification would cause a bigger quota to be delivered).
Japan presented its proposal first and then one of the 'newer' IWC members indicated their support for this text. The New Zealand Commissioner, Jim McClay, made an inspired intervention that related to both the RMS texts (we hope to post up McClay's statement later). The gist of this was that the bad faith shown in the negotiations over the RMS text and the bad faith shown during the current meeting showed that neither text could go forward.
The Japanese text was then put to the vote and failed to gain the required three quarters, despite support from pro-whaling nations. Norway, interestingly, abstained (perhaps reserving its position to see how the next vote began). Later, they explained that the text did not meet all of their needs.
The Swedish Chairman then moved to the Swedish text and some discussion followed. Only one of the pro-whaling countries spoke and indicated that they did not support the text.
The vote (conducted by roll call) then started. This proposed schedule amendment also failed.
The Commission then adjourned for dinner and afterwards continued the meeting into the evening.
After the RMS decisions, small conferences continued in the margins of the meeting as lawyers and others tried to find some sensible way to resolve the aboriginal quotas issue. Many film crews swept across the floor trying to film these various impromptu meetings.
Meanwhile, that Chairman has ruled that no resolutions would be considered until tomorrow - the very last day of the meeting. This leaves a large number of matters (not to mention the aboriginal quotas) unresolved. At this point, it seems unlikely that many of the resolutions will be discussed or voted on. There are about twenty resolutions potentially in play.
After a short dinner break, the Chairman led the meeting through a series of items at a high rate of knots: in brief:
The session closed shortly after this at about 11:45pm and many people went to bed late, exhausted and fearful about what the next day would bring with negotiations continuing through the night on the aboriginal quotas.
Day 5 - Revised proposals and quota surprises
The morning opened with the UK presenting a proposal that reached the floor late last night.
The UK proposed that all the aboriginal subsistence quotas be voted on together. The US objected to this strategy, wanting a separate vote on a revised version of its bowhead quota application (which failed earlier in the week). The US prevailed and the UK withdrew its proposal.
The meeting first examined a revised proposal (which emerged this morning) from St Vincent and the Grenadines. This led to extended and fractious debate. Apparently the Commissioners had reached agreement in a private meeting late on Thursday - as part of a package of agreements on aboriginal quotas - that St Vincent could have the four humpbacks requested. However, this was subject to some conditions relating to the status of the stock and new legislation to regulate the hunt which St Vincent promised would be implemented by July 2002. The new proposal, which took everyone by surprise, asked for more whales and excluded the conditions.
Several delegations spoke in outrage that St Vincent had reneged on the agreement reached in the Commissioners meeting and New Zealand, who had overseen the agreement noted that his draft of the old proposal contained handwritten amendments which he had agreed in person with the St Vincent Commissioner.
He then proposed that all those conditions should be included in a re-revised version of St Vincent's proposal and the Secretariat staff rushed away to produce new copies. Back on the floor after a tense coffee break the meeting, considered the re-revised proposal and it was adopted by consensus.
In effect, St Vincent and the Grenadines despite its very poor history of compliance with the Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling Scheme, was rewarded with more whales than it had even originally asked for.
Following this, consensus was reached on the proposals for a renewed quota for gray whales (shared by Russian Inuit and the Makah tribe of Washington State) and fin and minke whales (taken by Greenlanders). There was no substantive discussion on the merits of the proposal or the status of the stocks and both proposals found consensus.
Then the US retabled its failed bowhead proposal with a minor amendment. It sought consensus, found none and then Japan tabled a floor amendment which bound the aboriginal quota with an award of 25 minke whales for Japanese small type coastal whaling villages. The proposed amendment was put to a vote and failed by simple majority and the vote proceeded for the Schedule amendment required to adopt the bowhead quota into the schedule. Following protracted interventions from a number of Caribbean and other developing nations who are allied to Japan who spoke in favour of the right of humans to food, they then showed their real allegiances. Not the indigenous people in remote communities, but to Japan. The bowhead vote failed and representatives of the Alaska Inuit and the Russian Chukotkans took the floor to express their disappointment. The Russian delegate took the floor himself to rail against the double standards demonstrated.
The net result of this mess is that more whales will die and the only comfort that we can find is that this does not include an endorsement of Japan's claim for a new category of whaling.
After lunch the meeting resumed.
A number of issues concerning the finances of the IWC were discussed during the afternoon. Budgets were submitted for consideration, including proposals for reduction of expenditure. The Commission adopted the budget.
And, so a meeting in which the whalers did their upmost to disrupt proceedings and destabilise the work of the Commission, drew to a close.
Germany spoke about its invitation to Berlin for IWC 55 in 2003, while Italy set out its invitation for the IWC to meet in Italy for the 56th annual meeting.
In an eloquent speech the Italian delegation spoke of the importance of recognising the degradation of the marine environment and the threat to cetaceans, and also the need for culture not to subvert environmental protection and animal welfare issues.
Oman thanked the people of Japan and Shimonoseki and the chairman. India commended the Chair and secretariat for the way he ran the meeting, and also thanked the people of Shimonoseki. Japan noted that it had been a very long meeting and passed its thanks to the secretariat and the chairs of the scientific committees. Palau spoke of the experience at the meeting and all that it had learned that would now be used in other conventions.
The Chair finally closed the 54th IWC meeting at 5.19pm local time.
WDCS would also like to convey our thanks to the people of Shimonoseki for their warm welcome and kind hospitality during our stay in their city.
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