World Conservation Trust
Editorial: Showdown in
by Janice Henke
There was no consensus at IWC 54 that Siberian and
Alaskan Inuit people should be granted a renewal of their quota for Bowhead
whales. Because there was no consensus, the issue had to be decided by a vote,
and the necessary 3/4 majority was not achieved. A shocked silence was followed
by angry words and yet another private caucus, although such adjournments had
twice failed to resolve this painful agenda item.
The media didn't know what to make of it. The anti-whaling NGOs didn't know
what to make of it, and it made them nervous. Russia and the US, whose
aboriginal people were denied their whales, were confused and angry, and the US
delegation wasn't saying very much in public. Russia's Commissioner and a
Siberian Inuit representative both spoke very angrily, about the injustice of
denying whales to starving Inuit. The Chair of the Scientific Committee had
assured the IWC that although the Bowhead quota would not be permitted under
RMP formula prescriptions for resumption of commercial whaling, the stock would
not be harmed if taken under aboriginal subsistence conditions because it was
seen to be increasing in a specific way and advancing steadily over the past
twenty or so years, thus there was no cause for concern. The US Commissioner
and his deputy both spoke tersely, noting that there was absolutely no reason
to believe that the aboriginal subsistence quota for Bowhead proposed to be
taken by Alaskan and Siberian Inuit, would endanger the stock or cause its
Setting up the stage...
All this was played out over the last three days of IWC 54 in Shimonoseki,
but everyone there knew that it was not really about concern over Bowhead
whales. The problem was a bitter IWC history of denial of traditional resources
to Japanese coastal whalers, whose north pacific Minke whale stocks number
25,000, and whose government had been asking for an interim relief quota of 50
whales per year, to be granted until the moratorium on commercial whaling shall
be lifted. This was the 16th year that such a request had been made,
and once again, it was turned down by a vote in the IWC, whose majority members
oppose any resumption of commercial whaling, and who will do everything
possible to prevent a lifting of the moratorium, as Mike Tillman said in
Monocco, "regardless of the science".
When considered in biological terms, the two stocks are very different.
Minke whales reproduce faster than do Bowhead, they are indisputably more
numerous, and North Pacific Minkes outnumber the total population of Bowhead;
estimates are 25,000 Minke to 10,000 Bowhead.
When considered in political terms, the Japanese have for years had to
suffer the political and human consequences of IWC denial of resources to their
four coastal communities, in which there is ample documentation of economic and
cultural distress since the moratorium went into effect. The traditional level
of commercial whaling activity in those villages was approximately the same as
is seen in towns and the few larger cities in southern Greenland, where a quota
of large whales is granted to Greenland Inuit under aboriginal subsistence
conditions. In Greenland, surplus whale product is sold in supermarkets and
small stores, after hunters' families and local communities have had their fill
of whale meat and blubber. Further, it is rumored that in northern Alaska, some
sale of whale product is also taking place, causing some nervous embarrassment
among the US delegation, who had been ready to declare that it doesn't matter,
since all the product sold stays within Alaska. Yet, we note, the same level of
commercialism exists in Greenland today as did in coastal Japan prior to the
moratorium, yet no one at IWC has brought this up for public discussion,
because aboriginal subsistence whaling is supposed to be entirely free of
"commercial elements". The reality is much different.
If you play Russian Ruolette for too
Protectionist NGOs are nervous, because they know that anti-whaling nations
plan to deny Japan's request forever, and will stall indefinitely in order to
prevent the RMS from ever being finalized. NGOs had until now, felt confident
that the impasse at IWC would just go on forever, with no progress towards
approval of commercial whaling, because anti-whaling nations are afraid of the
NGO-driven media backlash they would suffer at home, if they ever voted
otherwise. These NGOs never dreamed that they might be accused of causing an
impasse that would ultimately deny Inuit their subsistence quotas.
This year, Japan and other pro-whaling nations denied consensus, pointedly
and only, to the US and Russia for their natives' Bowheads, in retribution for
the repeated denial of Minke resources to Japan's coastal villages. Government
of Japan officials knew that neither nation would actually forbid their natives
from taking their Bowhead quotas. Consensus was reached on great whale quotas
for the Caribbean, for Greenland, Russia for gray whales, and for the Makah
Indians in Washington state. (There are 26,000 gray whales available to the
Makah, who would be allowed only 5 per year).
The point was further driven home when Japan's delegation announced that if
the IWC would grant Japan's villages a reduced interim allowance of 25, not 50,
north pacific Minkes, that Japan would then agree to a US/Russian Bowhead quota
by consensus. This deal was not accepted by the US and Euro-Australian-New
Zealand-Latin American block, leading to the denial of the quota for Bowhead
Siberian and Alaskan natives will get their whales next spring, when their
quota is due for renewal. Domestic decrees will grant them, if the IWC does not
do so via postal vote or some other method, before then. Japanese coastal
villages will receive their Minke whales, and the number will be 100, not 25 or
50. They will be delivered after the usual scientific research on their bodies
and their stomach contents is completed by the government research fleet that
plys the waters around Japan each year. Other species will be added, and there
will be enough whale meat to keep the villages viable.
In the IWC, the environment is solidly bipartisan. Consensus on aboriginal
subsistence quotas for Alaskan and Siberian Inuit may never happen again.
Additional members are being sought by each side, because this is now a war for
enough votes to grant or deny access to traditional resources, whether they be
traditionally or commercially distributed after they are landed. The Revised
Management Scheme will have to be decided by a 3/4 majority vote, and both
sides are determined to control the outcome. Science has taken a back seat to
politics, traditional diplomacy has disappeared, and there is no trust that
agreements made among nations in private will be acted upon in good faith.
Either governments will take back their sovereign powers through renewal of
relationships, or they will remain estranged through fear of the attacks of
environmentalist NGOs. Perhaps the showdown happened because IWC 54 was held in
Shimonoseki. Perhaps it would have happened, regardless. Next year, in Berlin,
the hard feelings will continue the struggle to deny access to whale resources,
ignoring principles of resource sustainability and ICRW treaty mandates
regarding human needs.
Environmentalist NGO influence on diplomatic relationships and the business
of treaty law will continue until the IWC either changes, or falls apart.This
evolutionary process will develop through adaptations to a relatively new
social environment, and the future success of all the players depends on their
combined strengths and flexibility. IWMC wishes whales and whalers, scientists
and sovereign nations, a brighter future.