Saturday, September 15, 2018

IWC 67 Day Three - Two Solitudes

IWC 67 Day Three - Two Solitudes  

by Paul Spong - orcalab

September 12, 2018

Florianopolis Brazil - This morning began with a presentation by the USA of the revised ASW (aboriginal and subsistence whaling) Bundle.

The most controversial details (carry over and automatic renewal) provisions had been massaged sufficiently to satisfy many of the objections that had been raised yesterday, or at least satisfy many of the countries which were uneasy or inclined to oppose it yesterday.

The changes were insufficient to satisfy the BAG (Buenos Aires Group) which consists of the Latin American countries who are the whales’ greatest defenders. So a vote was held.

I’m quite sure the USA was holding its breath as the vote proceeded, but in the end when the Secretary announced the result there was an audible sigh of relief in the room. The USA had achieved predictability and stability for the Alaskan families and communities which depend on Bowheads for food and cultural continuity.

There was an instant celebration in the room and beyond. Nothing was noticed or said about the side consequences of the decision. Greenland gets to kill more whales than ever and so does Russia.

Changes like removing length and time of year restrictions on killing fin whales near Greenland must have consequences but they are unknown and certainly in this forum unnoticed. While the decision was a victory for the USA, at the same time it was a defeat for whales and their defenders.

There are so many side effects to the decision that will resonate for years, even decades to come. For me the ugliest consequence is the permission St. Vincent now has for the whalers of Bequia to go on killing humpbacks whenever they come close. The quota is 4 per year and includes a “carry over” provision. Within 7 years 28 humpbacks could be killed.

The decision flies in the face of a whale watching economy that is growing in the Caribbean and based on identified individuals. Go figure. The only sense I can make of it is that the USA was so desperate to achieve its objective for far north Alaskan communities that it was willing to give everything else away.

Poor humpbacks.

The ASW decision engendered such a feeling of bonhomie in the room that several whale friendly decisions were taken with only token opposition. A resolution on advancing understanding of the role of whales in ecosystem functioning was passed after a vote with 63% support. It was so interesting to hear virtually the same objections repeated time after time by Japan’s allies – irrelevant, outside the scope of the Convention, etc.

Possibly as a result of this defeat, two more resolutions were passed by consensus after the chair of the Finance and Administration Committee assured the audience they would not have financial consequences. These resolutions, on anthropogenic noise and ghost gear for a while produced an aura of cooperation during the afternoon session. For me, the highlight of the feel good phase was Belgium’s comment that “protecting whales and dolphins means protecting ourselves”. Yes! Unfortunately though predictably the cozy feeling didn’t last.

Following the afternoon coffee break chairman Morishita introduced Agenda item 12, Future of the IWC. It seems he did so because the meeting was falling behind schedule and he wanted to catch up. I’m not sure if it was a mistake but it did open a can of worms.

There are two visions of the future. One is described in the Florianopolis Declaration which sees a future in which whales are respected and valued, only treated in non-harmful ways. Naturally this is anathema to Japan, so suddenly we were hearing comments about how some members had been so nice to others they deserved reciprocal gestures such as recognizing the validity if killing whales sustainably.

Unsurprisingly the appeals didn’t fly. After more than an hour of overtime the meeting ended for the day.

Quite clearly we are back to normal:

Two solitudes.

IWC 67 Day Four - The great divide 

by Paul Spong - orcalab

 September 13, 2018

Florianopolis Brazil - This morning began with a vote on the Florianopolis Declaration proposed by Brazil which essentially looks forward to a future for whales and the oceans they inhabit in which most whales live free from the threat of death by harpoon, and via their spirit and beauty contribute to the economies of their human neighbours.

It’s a wonderful vision in which the inhabitants of our planet share its bounty and live in harmony.

A pipe dream to be sure, but in this forum one that was accepted by 60% of those present and able to vote at this meeting.

Japan and it’s bloc voted predictably but the vote was interesting in some of its other details. Switzerland, South Africa, Kenya and Nicaragua all abstained. The latter two had already been showing signs of sitting on the fence or dropping to the other side during the meeting but I had thought Switzerland and South Africa to be pretty solidly pro whale.

I may have to revise that opinion tomorrow which is the last and possibly most dramatic day of IWC 67. 
Many big decisions have already been made but the one that could take the IWC back to pre-history has been put off until tomorrow, the last day. It’s Japan’s proposal to start commercial whaling again and redraw the rules under which the IWC operates. Given the way things have mostly been tilting in the whales’ favour so far, it’s a little unsettling to see how pleased some of the people who should be worried are looking. 

A rumor has been going around that the USA wants or needs to give Japan something so it doesn’t go home totally bruised. I haven’t had a feeling nor have any evidence to confirm that but the rumour is a bit unsettling. Almost at the end of this day a concession was made to Antigua and Barbuda regarding proposed annual meetings of the Conservation Committee that I felt totally unnecessary but it happened. Whether it’s a harbinger of a strange day tomorrow I don’t know but I do know we need to be vigilant.

The tricky shape of things here showed up in several ways today, most particularly in Japan’s response to an NGO comment about its whaling under “special permit”. EIA (Environmental Investigations Agency) on behalf of a dozen NGOs made a statement calling on the Commission to reject Japan’s proposal to overturn the moratorium in which it referred to commercial whaling by Iceland Norway and Japan.

The reference outraged Japan which demanded an apology, presumably because the hundreds of whales it kills annually are for research not commerce. Chairman Morishita seemed a bit taken aback by the charge and suggested the parties get together to talk.

It hasn’t happened yet and probably won’t but given the International Court of Justice’s characterisation of Japan’s research whaling as commerce I don’t think Japan has a leg to stand on. Quite possibly Japan might quietly let the matter drop, which would be the most sensible course, but the way things are going here it might want to go another round.

There’s no question things are heating up. We might see fireworks in the morning.

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