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Monday, June 21, 2010

Baby with the Bathwater: Repeat.

By Sidney Holt
Sea Shepherd Board of Advisors

One good thing about being sick and so not subject to the cut and thrust (and distresses) of IWC-meeting-life is the opportunity to read some papers carefully twice. Andrew Darby’s article today in The Age “Greenpeace softens line on whaling” led me to read again the joint WWF-GP-Pew policy statement of 12 May, entitled “Six Fundamental Elements…” and my own blog of 9 April “On Throwing the Baby out with the Bathwater”. Having done that I’m sure there is more to be very worried about in that Joint Statement than an apparent toleration of some non-zero commercial catch limits outside sanctuaries so long as they are sustainable and properly calculated. In particular, invoking the IUCN Red Book classifications in support of not exploiting “endangered species” is dangerous and misleading because it appears to suggest that it is OK to exploit non-endangered species – of course sustainably - which is exactly what the whaling lobbies have been saying for years.

The IUCN’s (and WWF’s) notion of “endangerment” has nothing whatsoever to do with the IWC’s policy which, since 1974, and in line with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, has been that commercial exploitation is only justified on abundant whale populations, specifically those that are still at or have recovered to about half their pre-exploitation abundance. That is a very far cry from discussing possible extermination, and is a progressive principle that should never be compromised. Thus the Joint Statement’s proposal to jettison sub-paragraph 10(c) of the Schedule, which defines Protection Stocks and so mandates their listing in the Schedule tables, is, I think, questionable, regressive and irresponsible.  And I don’t say that just because its signatories read my 9 April blog – I sent it to them – and ignored its warning.  The Joint Statement puts major NGOs in this respect perilously close to the position of whalers (and fisherpersons generally) that as soon as a depleted population that has been protected shows signs of increasing in number (as are some humpbacks, blue whales and right whales) then the time has come to resume their exploitation. That way once big, now depleted, fisheries resources everywhere are being “managed” in such a way as to prevent their resuming their earlier productivity. It has been good to seen in the last couple of years that the Commission of the European Union is readying to embrace the same policy as the IWC with respect to fisheries in its EEZ. The Norwegian delegation to IWC has been repeating the “sustainability” mantra for many years to justify its continued exploitation of what the IWC determined, in 1985, was a depleted minke whale stock in the Northeast Atlantic and classified it as a Protection Stock.

I’m not against honest compromise but this “not-endangered, and sustainable” stuff is giving away the family silver or at least selling the gold plate off cheap. Furthermore, suppose that one day, perhaps quite soon, the IUCN-wallahs decide that sei or fin whales are no longer “endangered species” because there is evidence of increasing numbers of some populations and they are now fairly numerous, so not in imminent danger of extinction. Should the IWC then throw them all open to resumed whaling, deleting their “Protection Stock” labels? That would be too easy, because if WWF-Pew-Greenpeace have their way there will be no such designation left in the IWC Schedule.

Japan, like Iceland, has its eyes on the fin whale, historically by far the most productive of all the baleen whales. The IWC Scientific Committee has not seen evidence for their increase in the Southern Ocean, but I bet the Tokyo Institute of Cetacean Research has a pretty good idea about what is happening, from the JARPA data they don’t divulge to the IWC – that the fins have been increasing since they were protected by IWC in the mid-1970s, as they should be. Why else would the Japanese authorities now be talking about commissioning a new, bigger, faster factory-ship?. Is it really, as they have said, better to escape the attentions of Sea Shepherd? I think not. To be able to process blood, organs, bones etc on board to improve profit margins, as in the good old days? Quite likely, but not the residual bits of minke whales. To be able to haul up full-sized fin whales, not only juveniles? Certainly. And they won’t be content with a bakers’ dozen of them.

Nor, I suspect, will the pygmy blues be safe for long. For those young readers not familiar with Antarctic whaling history, look back to the IWC Reports from the days when Japan began to exploit sei whales as a main target, in the late 1960s (which necessitated operating at lower latitudes than before) and, lo and behold, discovered there was another, smaller sub-species or species of blue whale, not previously exploited, and feeding in more northerly waters than the “real” blue. The little one was eventually not so utterly depleted as the big one because the sei whales – the main reason for moving northward – were quickly almost exterminated and a southward move had to be made again to start on the minke whales. So it goes!

Sidney Holt