June 26, 2009

Whaling Commission Head Suggests Ending Hunting Ban

A U.S. fisheries expert and outgoing chair of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) proposed that ending the commercial hunting ban on whales could actually benefit whale conservation efforts, BBC News reported.

This year's IWC meeting saw pro- and anti-whaling nations agree to further compromise talks and deferred a decision on a controversial bid from Greenland to add humpback whales to its annual hunt.

The Greenland Inuit are granted hunting quotas because they are one of the indigenous peoples deemed to need whalemeat to preserve their way of life.

Environment groups and anti-whaling nations say the 1982 commercial whaling moratorium is one of the conservation movement's iconic achievements.

But Dr. William Hogarth, who led the compromise talks for the last year, suggested it could now be a problem for whale conservation.

"I'll probably get in trouble for making this statement, but I am probably convinced right now that there would be less whales killed if we didn't have the commercial moratorium," he told BBC News.

He argued that since Japan follows a clause in the whaling convention that gives any country the right to hunt as many whales as it wants for scientific research, the country's whale hunts are essentially unregulated and account for more than 1,000 whales each year.

Hogarth believes use of the scientific whaling clause encourages large hunts in order to get enough samples to draw scientifically valid conclusions.

He suggests Japan would not need so many whales if it were strictly for sustainable use.

Hogarth maintains that the only way to appease all sides is by finding a way of allowing limited, tightly regulated small-scale whaling for local consumption, while outlawing large-scale, heavily commercial hunts and keeping international trade under control.

But John Frizzell, a Greenpeace oceans campaigner and a long-time opponent of whaling, said lifting the commercial moratorium would be an extremely bad idea.

He said that while under the IWC's guidance and supervision, populations were driven down to commercial extinction one after the other and heavily depleted before the moratorium was enacted.

"The moratorium is the only management procedure that has even halfway worked, and to talk about scrapping it is going back to the old days," he added.

Although Japan was not currently offering to end scientific whaling within a timeframe of a few years, progress was possible in the longer term, according to Sue Lieberman, head of the global species program at WWF International.

"I don't think anyone should expect Japan to come forward and say 'you're right, we've been wrong all these years, we give up'. But I think it's important to sit down with Japan and talk about it," she said.

She continued: "It is time to give it up. Economically it makes no sense, it's not necessary for food security, it's time to leave the Southern Ocean [whale] sanctuary as a sanctuary - and I hope politically Japan will understand that."

The meeting also debated Greenland's request to add 10 humpback whales per year to the minkes, bowheads and fin whales that the Inuit already catch.

Greenland's request was turned down at the last two IWC meetings, and the government cites the issue as a reason for wanting to move its whaling outside the commission's remit.

The decision was left open after EU nations could not agree a position among themselves. EU policy is to vote as a bloc in all international environmental agreements.

"I don't think EU countries understand the needs of traditional hunters," said Amalie Jessen, Greenland's deputy minister for fisheries, hunting and agriculture.

Jessen stated that she had observed very little tolerance and very little understanding of her country's situation.

"They are always coming up with new requests and questions and conditions," she said.

Environmental groups were pleased to see the passage of a resolution noting that climate change will affect cetaceans and environmental lawyers said it could be a precedent for regional fisheries management organizations, which normally shy away from discussion of climate issues.

Australia's initiation of a new research partnership in the Southern Ocean that will use exclusively non-lethal methods was also a welcomed topic during the event.

Incoming chairman Cristian Maquieira will take over after Hogarth's departure as head of the IWC.

Steering next year's negotiations between Japan and anti-whaling countries such as Australia is something Maquieira sees as a difficult challenge, but the Chilean diplomat was optimistic about the negotiations.

"I feel if there's one common element involved here, it's that everybody believes the status quo is no longer acceptable," he said.


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