The U.S. delegation to the International Whaling Commission (“IWC”) is poised to support a deal that would be the biggest threat to whales since the moratorium to commercial whaling was established in 1986. The proposal being considered would grant commercial quotas to Japan, Iceland and Norway.
The IWC was set up under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling which was signed in Washington DC on 2nd December 1946 (Click HERE to view full text). The purpose of the Convention is to provide for the proper conservation of whale stocks and thus make possible the orderly development of the whaling industry.
The main duty of the IWC is to keep under review and revise as necessary the measures laid down in the Schedule to the Convention which govern the conduct of whaling throughout the world (Click HERE to view the full text).
These measures, among other things, provide for the complete protection of certain species; designate specified areas as whale sanctuaries; set limits on the numbers and size of whales which may be taken; prescribe open and closed seasons and areas for whaling; and prohibit the capture of suckling calves and female whales accompanied by calves.
The compilation of catch reports and other statistical and biological records is also required. In addition, the Commission encourages, co-ordinates and funds whale research, publishes the results of scientific research and promotes studies into related matters such as the humaneness of the killing operations.
There are many stocks or populations of the thirteen species of ‘great whales’. Many have been depleted by over-exploitation, some seriously, both in recent times and in earlier centuries. Fortunately, several of these are showing signs of increase since their protection. (Click HERE for current population estimates)
Whales, like any other animal population, have a natural capacity for increase and a natural rate of mortality. A stock remains more or less in equilibrium at its initial level because these two factors balance one another. In 1975, a new management policy for whales was adopted by the IWC based on these characteristics. This was designed to bring all stocks to the levels providing the greatest long-term harvests, by setting catch limits for individual stocks below their sustainable yields.
However, because of uncertainties in the scientific analyses (in part due to the difficulty in obtaining the complex data required) and therefore the precise status of the various whale stocks, the IWC decided at its meeting in 1982 that there should be a pause (the ‘moratorium’) in commercial whaling on all whale stocks from 1985/86.
A Revised Management Procedure (RMP) has been developed subsequently, which the Commission accepted and endorsed in 1994 but has yet to implement. This balances the somewhat conflicting requirements to ensure that the risk to individual stocks is not seriously increased, while allowing the highest continuing yield. It is an important step in the development of wildlife resource management in that it takes into account the inevitable scientific uncertainty and requires only relatively simple to obtain information (knowledge of population size, past and present catches, and stock identity). (For more information on the RMP click HERE).
The Commission is currently examining ways to complete a Revised Management Scheme (RMS) that incorporates scientific aspects of management (the RMP) with those designed to ensure that regulations are obeyed. (For more information on the RMS click HERE).
The pause in commercial whaling does not affect aboriginal subsistence whaling which is permitted from Denmark (Greenland, fin and minke whales), the Russian Federation (Siberia, gray whales), St Vincent and The Grenadines (humpback whales), and the USA (Alaska, bowhead and occasionally off Washington, gray whales). (For more information on aboriginal subsistence catches click HERE).
All of this seems rather barbaric to me. I suppose it is due to hearing Raffie sing about a baby Beluga whale to my kids and reading Moby Dick as a teenager. I do not support commercial quotas to Japan, Iceland and Norway. I will write to President Obama and tell him that I oppose commercial fishing of whales by any country, including these three countries. Boys, it ain’t the 1800s anymore.