Countries push to undermine ban on commercial whaling

Charities say calls at international meeting to lift restrictions are distraction from climate crisis and plastic pollution
2022-10-18 06:30

A 40-year-old ban on commercial whaling is in danger after “misleading” resolutions were put forward at the International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting in Portorož, Slovenia.

The wildlife protection organisations OceanCare and Humane Society International said proposals by pro-whaling countries, including Antigua and Barbuda, could reverse progress made by the IWC.

Antigua and Barbuda has submitted a resolution seeking to reopen a formal debate on commercial whaling. It also co-sponsored another resolution with Cambodia, Guinea and the Gambia arguing the fishing practice could contribute to food security and address poverty. Members are expected to vote on the resolutions on Tuesday.

Nicolas Entrup, OceanCare’s director of international relations, dismissed the concept of sustainable whaling as “ridiculous”. If passed, he said, Antigua and Barbuda’s resolutions would “reverse” progress made in 2018 towards a more conservation-focused IWC.

“Instead of losing precious time with decade-old debates about fabricated scenarios like ‘sustainable whaling’ and false solutions to food security, the IWC should urgently take up the real pressing issues: climate change and plastic pollution,” Entrup said.

At the last meeting of its 88 member countries in Brazil in 2018, the IWC rejected a proposal by Japan to lift the ban on commercial whaling, which Tokyo said could be done sustainably. The IWC also reaffirmed its role as a conservation-focused organisation, acknowledging that threats to whales went beyond hunting, and included ship strikes, fishing bycatch and the climate crisis.

Japan, which had tried for many years to lift the ban, left the commission the year after the 2018 meeting and is no longer bound by the restriction.

Commercial whaling in the 19th and early 20th centuries brought the mammals to the brink of extinction.

Wendy Higgins director of international media at Humane Society International said: “People assume the whaling ban, which has saved the lives of hundreds and thousands of cetaceans, is done and dusted. But the ban is in jeopardy as long as there are nations in the IWC who will vote to return to whaling.”

Higgins described the resolution on “sustainable whaling” as misleading and said: “I hope whale-friendly nations will vote against the biggest threat to the conservation of cetaceans that we have seen for a long time.”

Jiří Mach, the IWC commissioner for the Czech Republic, which is responsible for coordinating the position for the EU member states, said it was “absolutely clear” that the position of the EU and its member states was to “support the maintenance and full implementation of the moratorium on commercial whaling in the schedule and to oppose any proposal which could undermine the moratorium or potentially lead to threats to whale stocks”.

The resolutions come as the IWC faces financial difficulties after the departure of Japan, the Covid pandemic and global economic problems. A quarter of the 88 countries that make up the commission have not paid annual dues that the IWC says are “critical” to its continued mandate.

On Monday, the IWC agreed to alter existing rules that ban countries in arrears from voting, to reflect the disproportionate effects of the pandemic on developing countries.

Willie Mackenzie, an oceans campaigner at Greenpeace International, said: “Greenpeace encourages all governments at the meeting to not only protect the commercial whaling ban, but to go much further in tackling all of the other threats to the world’s remaining whale, dolphin and porpoise populations – including climate change, industrial fishing, plastic pollution and habitat loss.”