True to form, global whaling forum ends on sour note
The organization did manage to change its subscription fee processes as well as shore up more protection for cetaceans.
Thu, Jul 14, 2011 at 07:29 PM
SAINT HELIER, Jersey — The global forum charged with both protecting and overseeing the hunting of whales ended a four-day session Thursday with a walkout by pro-whaling nations in order to block a vote on the creation of a new sanctuary.
The 63rd annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC), in other words, ended true to form.
"You can only conclude that this Commission — which, despite a moratorium, does not have a mandate to stop the large-scale hunting still going on — is genuinely dysfunctional," said Frederic Briand, head of Monaco's delegation.
"Since the moratorium was put in place in 1986, more than 33,000 whales have been killed," he told AFP as the 89-nation body adjourned for another year.
A significant number of the giant sea mammals are also killed through so-called "by-catch" and ship collisions.
The one modicum of progress achieved here was the adoption by consensus on Wednesday of a British plan to discourage influence peddling by changing the way member nations pay their dues.
Under the old rules, members could pay subscription fees — ranging from a few thousand to more than 100,000 euros — by cash or check, a practice that fuelled allegations of corruption.
The IWC was rocked last year by accusations in the British press that Japan used cash and development aid to "buy" votes from Caribbean and African nations.
Japan, which denied the charges, is one of three countries along with Norway and Iceland that practice large-scale whaling despite the moratorium, collectively taking more than 1,000 whales annually in recent years.
Such payments must now be made by bank transfer, as is done in other international organizations.
Some anti-whaling delegates and environmental groups took a "glass-half-full" approach to the outcome.
"The Commission, despite the recurrent standoff between pro-hunting and pro-conservation nations, is taking small steps in the right direction," said Sigrid Luber, president of Ocean Care, an advocacy group.
Luber said the new measure should make it easier "for delegates to express their own opinions."
Progress was also made towards recognizing the conservation status of dozens of smaller cetaceans — an order grouping 80-odd whales, dolphins and porpoises — and not just the 15 giant sea mammals currently covered by the IWC.
Others also point out that the moratorium, while flouted by the trio of hunting nations, has helped many species inch back from the brink of extinction.
"The majority of whale stocks are moving in the right direction, often at a pace of five to 10 percent per year," noted French scientist Vincent Ridoux, a member of the Commission's scientific committee.
"That is a direct result of the ban on commercial hunting," he said.
But on Thursday, the deep-seated divide that pulls this body apart surfaced again when Japan led a walk-out of pro-whaling nations to insure that a vote to create a sanctuary in the South Atlantic — spearheaded by Brazil and Argentina — would fail to muster the necessary quorum.
Currently there are two such whale havens, one in the Southern Ocean around Antarctica, and the other in the Indian Ocean.
Japan carries out an annual hunt during the southern hemisphere summer in Antarctic waters, and said this week it planned to return next season despite vows from anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd to disrupt the hunt.
In February, Japan recalled its Antarctic fleet a month ahead of schedule with only one fifth of its planned catch, citing interference from Sea Shepherd's vessels.
A bid to boost the voice and access of non-governmental organizations in the IWC's proceedings also failed.
"I know some of us would have liked to go further, particularly on the issue of observer and civil society participation," said Richard Pullen, the head of Britain's delegation.
"But negotiations mean compromise."
Copyright 2011 AFP Global Edition