Japan loses again but gains ground – June 17th 2006

IWC St. Kitts Day 2

Japan loses again but gains ground

Japan lost another vote on the second day of this 58th IWC meeting, but this time it was expected. At issue was Japan’s perennial request to start up “small type” coastal whaling in its home waters. Japan used to ask permission to kill 50 minke whales annually, in order to assist “impoverished” coastal communities through the hard times that followed implementation of the moratorium on commercial whaling in 1986. This time, Japan’s request was upped to 150 minkes annually for 5 years. In making its case this time, Japan brought along a Taiji spokesperson to convince the audience. Even pro-whale delegates applauded the passionate presentation by Taiji, but the strategy didn’t work, and Japan lost one more time. Japan fell far short of the 3⁄4 majority needed for a “Schedule” change. The vote was interesting because of abstentions by China and the Solomon Islands (normally supporters of Japan) and support from Denmark after Japan accepted its proposal that the term be reduced to 3 years. Senegal was not present to vote, yesterday’s rumour that it would be here today to support Japan. Also interesting were Japan’s thinly veiled threats (or inducements) in comments that the vote showed who their friends are.

This single vote on Day Two did nothing to clarify the balance of power at this meeting. Most of the day was taken up with discussions of the Revised Management Scheme (RMS) and Japan’s proposal that the IWC be “normalized”, by which it means, taking the Commission back to its 1946 roots when the only issues at stake related directly to commercial whaling. Countering this view, Australia and numerous other countries are proposing that the IWC be “modernized”, by which is meant bringing the IWC into line with other international treaties and expanding its role, for example considering whale issues in the broader context of the health of ocean ecosystems. Japan will have nothing to do with this thinking, of course, and has lined up 30 nations to support a document known as “The St. Kitts Declaration” which, in essence, calls for a return to the bad old days when whalers went whaling and nobody cared. The Declaration might as well be called “Get out of our Way”. Chances are it won’t even get majority support, but it could do huge damage by convincing CITES and others that the IWC is dysfunctional.

The RMS discussion is getting very tricky. Over the years, numerous workshops have been held in attempts to refine and reach agreement on an RMS, but at the latest meeting in Cambridge 3 months ago, an impasse was declared. Today, accusations flew in both directions, with Japan claiming that the anti-whalers will never agree to any return to commercial whaling, and the pro-whale side maintaining that Japan simply refuses to entertain the most basic elements of an RMS that will allow “safe” whaling. Essentially, the RMS concept is that if enough is known about whale populations, some removals of individuals can happen without endangering the population. Though the science is complex, a workable RMS also includes assurances that what happens is exactly known and accurately reported. From this flows the insistence of New Zealand and others that the RMS includes 100% observer coverage, DNA tracking, and real time reporting. Japan will have nothing to do with these elements, offering instead to place observers at land stations, DNA sampling under their control, and reporting eventually. It also wants all the members of the IWC, even those opposed to whaling, to share the costs involved in maintaining the RMS monitoring and enforcement system. What Japan wants is reminiscent of the days, not so long ago, when cheating conspiracies between whaling nations led to the unreported deaths of tens of thousands of whales. Anyone who knows about the tragic history of whaling can see the danger, and delegates from many countries do know.

Very unfortunately, the US is giving signals that it is willing to make a deal with Japan, apparently without regard to the danger to whales that it involves. Though couched in terms of defending whales, today’s US interventions included language like “compromise” and “the need to move forward”, quite enough, as things turned out, for Japan to praise the US in its concluding remarks on the RMS issue. No one seems to know precisely what Japan and the US are hatching, but some kind of deal seems to be in the works, and it’s certain to be bad for whales.

One revealing bit of the buzz at the end of Day Two: the US is going to be the next Chair of the IWC and Japan the next Vice-Chair. There’ll be no vote till the last day, but the deal is done. Sounds cozy? Bet on it.

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