// archives

International Whaling Commission

This tag is associated with 3 posts

Ecocide in the Oceans

29 May 2007

Ecocide in the Oceans

By Gwynne Dyer

When the annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission opened in Alaska on Monday (28 May), Japan declared that it planned to kill fifty humpback whales as well as the usual minke and fin whales next year in its “scientific” whale-hunt (catch them, count them, and sell them as food). Humpbacks were heading for extinction when the IWC agreed a moratorium on all commercial whaling in 1986, so the place erupted in protests.

Australian Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull called it “a highly provocative act,” but it is also a carefully calculated one. Japan’s real goal is to get commercial whaling re-started, and it offered to drop the plan to kill humpbacks if the IWC approves a return to “limited commercial whaling” by four Japanese coastal villages. Just four little villages for now, and strictly limited numbers of whales — but the 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling would have been broken.

The pro-moratorium countries at the IWC understand Japan’s tactics and will not make that deal, reckoning the lives of fifty humpbacks are less important than the principle of no commercial whaling. The killing of fifty humpbacks is regrettable, but it will not endanger a species that has gradually recovered to perhaps sixty or seventy thousand since the moratorium was imposed.

Which is not to say that the humpbacks have really recovered from the carnage of the whaling era. The IWC estimates that there were only 115,000 humpbacks before whaling began, but in a 2005 study marine biologist Steve Palumbi of Stanford University examined genetic diversity among humpbacks, which is directly related to the size of the ancestral population, and concluded that there used to be between 750,000 and two million of them. At best, humpback whales have only recovered to eight percent of their former numbers, and it may be as little as three percent.

We care about whales now (call it mammalian solidarity, if you like), but the fish of the oceans benefit from no such sentiment, and they are now going as fast as the whales once were. In fact, according to a report last year in “Nature,” the scientific journal, ninety percent of the really big fish — tuna, marlin, swordfish and the like — are already gone, and the middle-sized fish are following.

The codfish are gone on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, once the richest fishery in the world, and show little sign of recovery despite an absolute ban on cod-fishing for the past fifteen years. They are declining rapidly in the North Sea, too. In the 1980s the annual catch was about 300,000 tonnes. The European Union quota for codfish was cut to 80,000 tonnes in 2005 — and EU fishermen only managed to catch two-thirds of that quota. Nevertheless, they will probably keep on fishing, with gradually reducing quotas, until the stock is completely eliminated.

The problem is global. As human numbers have soared and fishing technologies have been industrialised, fishing has been mutated from the maritime equivalent of slash-and-burn agriculture to a process more like strip-mining. The schools of fish are located electronically, few individuals escape the huge nets, and no area of the ocean is left alone long enough for the stocks to recover.

“At this point, 29 percent of fish and seafood species have collapsed; that is, their catch has declined by 90 percent,” explained Prof. Boris Worm of Dalhousie University late last year. “It is a very clear trend, and it is accelerating.” If the trend continues, he predicted, ALL fish and seafood species that are fished commercially will collapse by 2048.

Individual fishermen, up to their ears in debt for their high-tech boats and equipment, cannot reverse this trend because they HAVE to go on fishing. Governments could cut the huge subsidies they give to their fishermen, and above all to the bottom-trawlers that are systematically turning the floors of the world’s oceans to mud, but they are unwilling to face the political protests of well-organised fishing lobbies. The systematic destruction of the world’s fisheries will continue unless some body equivalent to the International Whaling Commission takes charge, and how likely is that?

Not very. Or at least, an International Fisheries Commission with global regulatory authority is only likely to be accepted, as the IWC was, when all the commercial stocks have already collapsed. Yet fast-breeding fish can recover far faster than whales: as little as five years would allow most fish stocks to recover if a moratorium is imposed before total population collapse occurs. And you don’t have to do it in every area at once; most stocks are quite local.

A major human food source — the principal source of protein for one-fifth of the human race — is going to collapse in the next generation unless drastic measures are taken. The world’s fishing fleet needs to be reduced by at least two-thirds, bottom-trawling must be banned outright, and widespread fishing moratoriums for endangered species and even for whole areas need to be imposed for periods of five or even ten years.

Unfortunately, the minimum measures needed to prevent ecocide in the oceans would cause major short-term disruption and throw millions out of work, so they probably won’t be taken. It will be much easier politically to ignore what is happening now and let the collapse happen later, on somebody else’s watch.

________________________________

To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 4 and 7. (“Which…percent”; and”The problem…recover”)

The Perils of Pauline (Cetacean Version)

16 June 2006

The Perils of Pauline (Cetacean Version)

By Gwynne Dyer

At the end of each episode she faced a horrible death: carried off by a runaway balloon trapped in a burning house, tied to the tracks before an oncoming train. Filmed in 1914, “The Perils of Pauline” was the archetypal serial, as week after week the heroine (Pearl White) miraculously escaped from pirates, Indians, gypsies, rats, sharks, or her dastardly guardian. But she always did escape, and so have the whales. Or at least, they have escaped once again.

Everybody thought this was the year when Japan would finally achieve a majority on the International Whaling Commission and start moving the world back to full-scale commercial whaling after a twenty-year moratorium. For years, Tokyo has been bribing small, poor countries with generous offers of foreign aid if they will join the IWC and vote to resume whaling. The strategy came within a hair’s breadth of success last year, and with three new pro-Japanese members this year (Guatemala, Cambodia and the Marshall Islands) versus only one new anti-whaling member (Israel), it looked like Japan would have its majority at last.

As each delegation showed up at in St. Kitts and Nevis, the site of this year’s meeting, Greenpeace and their fellow NGOs anxiously adjusted their tallies, but nobody really knew which way the meeting was gong to swing until two key votes were held on 16 June. The first was on a Japanese proposal that the IWC should stop concerning itself with small cetaceans (small whales and dolphins), and to everybody’s surprise Japan lost by two votes.

After lunch they voted on another Japanese proposal, that future votes should be secret (so that Tokyo’s bought-and-paid-for allies could vote to resume whaling without facing an outraged public opinion at home). But Japan lost again, this time by three votes. This is the real world, however, not a movie serial, and sooner or later Japan is going to win this battle. The question is: why does it want to win?

Japan is at least as “green” in its attitudes as other developed countries. Its determination to resume commercial whaling is not typical of the positions it takes on other conservation issues, nor has whaling occupied the same prominent place in traditional Japanese society as it has (both economically and symbolically) in Norway and Iceland, its only two allies by conviction. There is something else going on here.

“Many of the Japanese citizens thinks that westerners, (the) outside world, is imposing their own value code on Japan on an emotional basis, and naturally they think they’re bullies or… arrogant,” Joji Morishita, the head of the Japanese delegation to the IWC, told the BBC on 15 June. Japan’s policy is really driven not by a national hunger for whale-meat (most Japanese under fifty have never even eaten whale), but by perceived racism and historic resentment against the West. The whales just got caught in the middle.

When the International Whaling Commission was created in 1946, it was about conserving the whaling industry, not the whales. It did a rotten job even of protecting the industry, however, because the numbers of large whales of most species continued to plunge, so in 1975 it set catch limits for individual whale stocks that were below their “sustainable yields.” The goal was simply to bring whale stocks back up to the numbers that would permit large harvests over the long term. It was the same sort of thing that should have been done to save Grand Banks cod, North Sea herring or Argentine hake, and nobody was talking yet about shutting down the whole whaling industry. But time passed, attitudes changed, and whale numbers kept falling.

Since most large whale species were clearly dwindling fast by the 1980s (and some were nearing extinction), the IWC agreed in 1982 on a moratorium on all commercial whaling until the stocks had recovered. It seemed to be a quite sensible temporary measure to preserve and enhance a valuable resource, so Japan and the few other countries that still hunted whales went along with it — but by the 1990s a large majority of the then-members of the IWC had decided that the moratorium should be turned into a permanent ban on whale-hunting.

Popular attitudes towards killing animals that seemed rare, intelligent or even cute had changed in most of the West, and whales scored two out of three. As time passed and whale stocks began to recover, the few pro-whaling countries began to realise that they had been had. They were all unhappy about it, but none of the others were as big or as angry as the Japanese.

A lot of Japanese nationalism in the 20th century was driven by the fact that Japan was the only non-white great power, and felt despised and patronised by the others. The love of whales had not caught on in popular Japanese culture to the same extent as elsewhere, and being treated as unfeeling brutes by the (mostly white) anti-whaling countries ignited a profound resentment in Japan. So the “normalisation” of the IWC — i.e., returning it to its original purpose of preserving whale stocks FOR THE WHALERS — became a high priority of Japanese foreign policy, and it started buying up small-country allies.

Japan failed again this year, but eventually it will probably succeed because it cares more passionately about this issue than its opponents do. Pity about the whales.

_______________________________

To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 5 and 7. (“Japan..here”; and “When…falling”)

Japan v. Whales: 1-0

16 June 2006

Japan v. Whales: 1-0

By Gwynne Dyer

“The moratorium [on whaling], which was clearly intended as a temporary measure, is no longer necessary,” says the St. Kitt’s Declaration, which passed by just one vote at the annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission on Sunday. It doesn’t mean that the world will go back to full-scale commercial whaling this year after a twenty-year moratorium, but the door is certainly now open. As New Zealand’s Conservation Minister Chris Carter admitted afterwards, “It has been a significant diplomatic victory for Japan.”

For years, Tokyo has been bribing small, poor countries with generous offers of foreign aid if they will join the IWC and vote to resume whaling. The strategy came within a hair’s breadth of success last year, and with three new pro-Japanese members this year (Guatemala, Cambodia and the Marshall Islands) this year versus only one new anti-whaling member (Israel), it looked like Japan would have its majority at last.

Then, a reprieve. Guatemala didn’t show up in St. Kitts and Nevis, the site of this year’s meeting, and several other small countries were late paying their dues and renewing their credentials. On Friday, Japan and its pro-whaling allies lost two key votes, though the anti-whaling coalition’s margin of victory was only two or three countries. But the dues eventually got paid (by somebody), the arms of a couple of waverers got twisted, and on Sunday Japan got the resolution it has been seeking for years. The IWC has declared that the moratorium on whaling is not permanent — indeed, is no longer necessary.

It doesn’t mean that commercial whaling will resume tomorrow. It would take the votes of three-quarters of the IWC’s members to end the moratorium, and Japan is nowhere near that number of supporters. Moreover, the anti-whalers are promising to go out and recruit new members to the IWC who will back their position and perhaps restore their majority. But the Japanese have worked at this issue with amazing determination over many years — and the question is: why?

Japan is at least as “green” in its attitudes as other developed countries. Its determination to resume commercial whaling is not typical of the positions it takes on other conservation issues, nor has whaling occupied the same prominent place in traditional Japanese society as it has (both economically and symbolically) in Norway and Iceland, its only two allies by conviction. There is something else going on here.

“Many of the Japanese citizens thinks that westerners, (the) outside world, is imposing their own value code on Japan on an emotional basis, and naturally they think they’re bullies or… arrogant,” Joji Morishita, the head of the Japanese delegation to the IWC, told the BBC on 15 June. Japan’s policy is really driven not by a national hunger for whale-meat (most Japanese under fifty have never even eaten whale), but by perceived racism and historic resentment against the West. The whales just got caught in the middle.

When the International Whaling Commission was created in 1946, it was about conserving the whaling industry, not the whales. It did a rotten job even of protecting the industry, however, because the numbers of large whales of most species continued to plunge, so in 1975 it set catch limits for individual whale stocks. The goal was simply to bring whale stocks back up to the numbers that would permit large harvests over the long term.

It was the same sort of thing that should have been done to save Grand Banks cod, North Sea herring or Argentine hake, and nobody was talking yet about shutting down the whole whaling industry. But time passed, attitudes changed, and whale numbers kept falling.

Since most large whale species were clearly dwindling fast by the 1980s (and some were nearing extinction), the IWC agreed in 1982 on a moratorium on all commercial whaling until the stocks had recovered. It went into effect in 1986, and at the time it just seemed to be a sensible temporary measure to preserve a valuable resource. So Japan and the few other countries that still hunted whales went along with it — but by the 1990s a large majority of the then-members of the IWC had decided that the moratorium should be turned into a permanent ban on whale-hunting.

Popular attitudes towards killing animals that seemed rare, intelligent or even cute had changed in most of the West, and whales scored two out of three. As time passed and whale stocks began to recover, the few pro-whaling countries proposed the resumption of whaling — and realised that they had been had. They were all unhappy about it, but none of the others was as big or as angry as the Japanese.

A lot of Japanese nationalism in the 20th century was driven by the fact that Japan was the only non-white great power, and felt despised and patronised by the others. The love of whales had not caught on in popular Japanese culture to the same extent as elsewhere, and being treated as unfeeling brutes by the (mostly white) anti-whaling countries ignited a profound resentment in Japan. So the “normalisation” of the IWC — i.e., returning it to its original purpose of preserving whale stocks FOR THE WHALERS — became a high priority of Japanese foreign policy, and it started buying up small-country allies.

The small countries, of course, are mostly in it for the aid money that Japan provides, but some of them are also resentful that the fat, rich West seems to care more about the poor whales than about poor people. This ugly little struggle will go on for years yet.

_______________________________

To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 5 and 7. (“Japan..here”; and

“When…falling”)