UN Whaling Debate Rejected

A bid to take whale conservation to the UN General Assembly failed at the International Whaling Commission (IWC) after criticism from hunting nations.

The motion said many species are not covered by IWC rules, and criticised Japan’s scientific whaling programmes.

The delegates’ final act was to decide to hold meetings every two years.

Meanwhile, the Danish and Greenland governments will “reflect” on whaling options for Greenland’s Inuit after the IWC denied a bid to raise quotas.

The options include setting quotas unilaterally without the IWC’s explicit approval, or even withdrawing from the body. Either would be intensely controversial.

Nothing caused more controversy here, though, than South Korea’s announcement that it was preparing to allow some of its fishermen to hunt whales under regulations permitting a catch for scientific research.

Japan has had such programmes in place since 1986, including an annual hunt in the Southern Ocean, which has been declared a whale sanctuary.

That was one focus of the resolution, tabled by Monaco, that called on the UN General Assembly to debate whale conversation.

Another was that whaling nations want the IWC’s remit restricted to species that have been hunted, while others want it to work for the conservation of all cetaceans.

The resolution invited governments to “consider these issues in collaboration with the UN General Assembly, with a view to contributing to the conservation efforts of the IWC”.

There was general acceptance that such a resolution should only go forward by consensus, and it was soon clear that consensus was absent.

Norway’s Einar Tallaksen said issues regarding cetaceans “are not a matter for the UN General Assembly, but for the competent fisheries organisations, including the IWC”.

As far as this meeting is concerned, the proposal is abandoned, though Monaco will work for it within the UN and is launching a “task force” of supportive nations.

“Clearly the whaling countries want to contain any discussion of their whaling inside the IWC,” commented Patrick Ramage, director of the global whale programme with the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

“They don’t want their diplomats at the United Nations to have to defend the indefensible.”

Unilateral moves?

On the final day of the IWC’s annual meeting, held this time in Panama City, delegations were also mulling the implications of Denmark’s decision to leave without a whale-hunting quota for the Greenland Inuit.

They came to Panama asking for increased quotas for humpback and fin whales, in addition to maintaining existing levels for minkes and bowheads.

The bid became more controversial after environment groups reported finding whalemeat on sale in many supermarkets and restaurants, and, with the EU against the expansion, the bid failed.

“We are going to go home and reflect, because this is a situation that needs to be handled with care,” said Danish delegation head Ole Samsing.

Experienced observers noted that in previous years, Denmark has been willing to compromise its requests in order to get something agreed.

The EU would have supported a continuation of the existing quotas, but the Danes opted instead to leave with nothing.

“There can be no doubt that Denmark knew when it put the proposal to a vote that it would fail,” said Sue Fisher, on behalf of the Washington DC-based Animal Welfare Institute.