IWC 60 day five: going, going… – June 27th 2008

Perhaps the most telling sign at the end of IWC 60 was that no-one wants to host the 2010 meeting. Usually, someone steps forward willingly, and quite often there is a competition. Last year, there were offers from Japan and Portugal, but Japan’s offer was withdrawn in response to what it perceived as unfair treatment, and Portugal’s offer of the Madeira Islands was accepted by default. Norway’s response to the absence of a venue was to suggest that perhaps the IWC should not even hold a meeting in 2010. When the UK voiced support for the notion, the Chair responded by saying there has been some discussion of moving to biennial meetings, but that there probably needs to be one in 2010, to wrap up the agreements he hopes will be in place by then. The Secretary indicated that the IWC had no budget to organize or pay for the 2010 meeting itself, so the Chair was left with thinking that perhaps he could convince the USA to step in. He wondered out loud whether his government has recovered from last year’s Anchorage meeting, and though the comment was meant as humour, like many jokes it came close to the quick. No one, except possibly the delegates from poor countries who get to vacation in a fancy hotel once a year, wants the charade the IWC has become to go on. Hence the initiative Chairman Hogarth has undertaken in trying to get the IWC onto a consensus track. He is dreaming, of course.

The last session had other moments. The most telling was Iceland’s flat out refusal to provide any information about a recent shipment of whale meat from Norway and Iceland to Japan. Trade is not an IWC issue, said Iceland. In a sense that’s correct, and it is true that Iceland, Norway and Japan all have reservations under CITES regarding trade in whale products, but just the same, the meat has yet to receive import permission, and is probably an embarrassment to Japan. Hardly anyone thinks the shipment would have been made if arrangements hadn’t been in place for it to be received. It seems to be a case of testing the waters – if the shipment is received and sold in Japan, it will open a whole new front in the whale wars. The question, asked by the UK, was also testing the waters – in this case, of the new spirit of “openness” of the Commission. There was no doubt that Iceland failed the test.

Money is certainly an issue at the IWC. Reserves are to be tapped to cover a budgetary shortfall; NGOs and media will pay more in fees; and as the Commission cannot afford to buy property or move to new premises, it will continue to lease its present space. £5,000 was allocated for legal fees relating to the property issue, and encouragingly, the IWC is going carbon neutral. On the very depressing side of business as usual, St. Vincent and the Grenadines pleaded for a reduction in its annual dues on the grounds that it is a poor country and can’t even afford the weaponry that would enable it to move from “traditional” to modern methods for killing humpback whales. There was no mention of the cost to the whales.

After a round of thanks for work well done and congratulations all round, the Chairman’s gavel wrapped up the last plenary session of IWC 60 at 10:43am. An hour later its work continued, behind closed doors.

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