Comments on IWC 62 documents by Sidney Holt

Comments on The IWC Chairman’s and Vice-Chair’s Proposals for
Amending the Schedule of the International Convention for the regulation of Whaling 1946 (IWC Document IWC/62/7, dated 24 April 2010, Earth Day.)

By  Sidney Holt

Orginal document:

1. This Document is purported to be a proposal “to develop a decision by the IWC to Improve the Conservation of Whales”. It is nothing of the kind; it is a proposal for the destruction of the International Whaling Commission as a serious inter-governmental body for both the conservation of whales and managing future human uses of them, using relevant and competent scientific and legal advice. It advocates a virtually unconditional surrender to those few Parties to the ICRW that do not like most of the important binding decisions taken by the IWC throughout its existence but especially in the past two decades. For these reasons the Chairman, Ambassador Cristián Maquieira, Commissioner for Chile, and the Vice-Chair Mr Anthony Liverpool, Commissioner for Antigua & Barbuda, should be invited to resign from their IWC \positions or be subject to an impeachment process.

2. The document does not formally propose an amendment to the ICRW Schedule as such, but is a “place-holder” to meet the deadline requirements of the IWC’s Rules of Procedure, to be further discussed before the coming IWC meeting in Agadir. Nevertheless, their format is as a draft amendment to the Schedule,  most of which was written by the Chairman’s Support Group under the leadership of Sir Geoffrey Palmer, Commissioner for New Zealand.

3. In considering all the implications of the Chairs’ suggestions an unfortunately common misconception should be bourne in mind. In 1960 the IWC adopted for the first time the idea that whale catches should be held within sustainable limits, and decided to apply that to the baleen whales feeding in Antarctic waters. In 1974 it adopted a different idea – that catch limits set by a New Management Procedure (NMP) should not merely be sustainable but would be such as to allow depleted stocks to recover to optimal levels. In 1976 the Commission accepted the scientists’ advice that this should for practical purposes be at the threshold of the numerical stock size being at about 54% of its pre-exploitation abundance. The tuning of a Revised Management Procedure (RMP) that the Commission subsequently asked the scientists to act upon and test was, among other things, chosen to ensure that catch limits arising from its application would be no less conservative than those that had been generated by the NMP.
That is a far cry from the simplistic notion of “sustainability” so much talked and written about by those seeking now to justify the commercial use of living renewable resources, including whales.

The fundamentals of the Chairs’ proposals are fivefold; the rest may be treated as window-dressing or as pretty gift-packaging. The five are;

(a)Table 4, giving suggested non-zero catch limits to be applied for ten years to a number of management stocks of minke, fin, humpback, sei and Bryde’s whales.
(b)The proposal that the long and complex draft Amendment, called a new Chapter, VII, of the Schedule, entitled (cynically) “Strengthened management and Conservation Measures”, shall supercede paragraphs 2 to 5, 9, 10(a) through 10(c), 11, 12, 21(c), 24-30 and Appendix A of the present Schedule.
(c) No other provisions in the current Schedule will be deleted but several actions will be taken as if they do not exist, thereby giving the entirely false impression that they are still operative in some obscure way.
(d) Immediate suspension of unilaterally-determined whaling under Special
Permits for scientific purposes, Objections to otherwise binding provisions, and Reservations (which are not provided for in the ICRW).
(e) Limit whaling to those IWC Members who currently take whales

3.  Element (e) is expressly prohibited by Article V.2 (c ) of the ICRW so I shall pay no further attention to it here.  But, because the authorized whaling operations are, as it were, converted to commercial whaling (except those still designated as Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling) the Chairs’ suggestions would authorise operations that would be strictly illegal as far as Parties to the ICRW are concerned. A specific example of this is the provision in Table 4 for catches, by any of the three still-whaling Members, but presumably by Japan, of fin whales in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. This designation has never been the subject of any objection with respect to fin whales, and killing, for commercial purposes, that species in the sanctuary by Japan, or by any other Member, would be a serious infraction of Paragraph 7(b) of the Schedule, which is not one of those superceded by element (b) above. Furthermore, Japanese scientists gave the Scientific Assessment Group (SAG) of the Chairman’s Support Group (SG) notice of their country’s intention to take fin whales in the Indian Ocean sector of the Southern Ocean. Since fin whales, unlike minke whales, feed to a considerable extent north of 55º S catching them there would also be an infraction of the declaration of the Indian Ocean Sanctuary in Paragraph 7(a). Not only has Japan lodged no objection to paragraph 7(a) it even expressed itself in favour of the indefinite extension of the sanctuary when the 1979 decision creating it was last reviewed.

4. Some of the anomalies in Document 62-7 perhaps arise from poor drafting. An example is that Tables 1, 2 and 3 of the present Schedule are retained, the zeros in them being over-ridden by the numbers in the new Table 4, but not the classifications for all stocks decided from 1975 to 1985, yet the Paragraphs defining those classifications (Paras 10(a) through to 10(c) ) are to be “superceded”.

More importantly, with reference to possible subsequent changes in the numbers in Table 4, it is said that calculations would be made using “the Commission’s established management procedures”. But which “established procedures”?  There is only one, still in the Schedule: paragraphs 10(a) through 10(c) which are to be  “superceded”. A Revised Management Procedure was provisionally and conditionally accepted by the Commission many years ago but never written into the Schedule so it is a simple trick to refer to that as “established” if that is what is meant. But, to make matters worse the Chairs’ proposal refers to “the most recent versions” of the RMP .  What are those and how many of them are there?  There is just one accepted and thoroughly tested version, and many informal suggestions, mostly from Norwegian Government scientists, for re-tuning that and applying it in slightly different ways in order to justify higher initial catches. The implications of such changes have not been tested by the Scientific Committee.

In fact the various suggestions have been mainly for changing the tuning of the original. But the tuning is not a scientific matter, it is a policy decision. In testing the so-called 72-tuning the Scientific Committee was acting on the explicit instructions of of the Commission concerning its priorities and acceptable probabilities. The Commission has not revised or changed those instructions, and the Committee has not tested by simulations any new tunings. The Chairs’ words seem designed simply to pull the wool over our eyes.

5. The new Table 4 awards the Norwegian whalers exactly 600 minke whales every year. This is just a few less that the catch limit for 1984: 635. So from where comes that number? An interesting question?  Well, at the time of the zero catch limits decision (1982, the “moratorium”) the limit for the Northeastern minke stock was 1790. That was simply an average of previous annual catches, and came from an assumption that the stock had not been seen to be declining under the impact of those catches, so it was classified Sustained Management Stock and the catch limit became about 90% of the average of previous unregulated catches.
 (That supposed ‘safety factor) derived from the requirement that the catch limit must be no more than 90% of MSY. No one knew whether the stock was declining under the impact of catches more than or less than MSY because MSY was then unknown and not even a rough estimate was available.  The application of the notional safety factor was a mere hand-waving. It was the use of such arrangements to set catch limits in the absence or relevant scientific advice that pushed the IWC in the direction of the 1982 decision.)

But that year – 1982 - the Scientific Committee agreed that this stock had been declining, for many years, and scientists proposed various lower catch limits. However, the Commission could not get the necessary three-fourths vote for any of them, so for the 1983 season no limit was set and the stock was left unclassified. Then in 1983 the scientists confirmed that the stock was declining, The Norwegians would not accept their proposed limit and to prevent there again being no limit at all the Commission reluctantly adopted the Norwegian proposal 635 for 1984 - an arbitrary number suggested by Norway - which was accompanied by a promise to present better data the following year. In 1984, before the “moratorium” came into effect, the Norwegian scientists did present better data which could not be fully analysed during that meeting; the catch limit of 635 was retained for another year by the Commission. The new data were evaluated during the coming year. At its 1985 meeting the Scientific Committee decided that not only had the stock been declining but that it was now far below its “optimal” number as defined in the NMS (54% of the pre-exploitation stock size) and proposed Protection Stock classification with consequent zero catch limit. The Commission accepted that advice and acted on it by changing SMS to PS in Table 1. The catch limit was already zero from 1986 because of the 1982 decision. Norway lodged an objection to the classification. The Commissioner for Norway promised the Commission that further new data series would be provided (the hope being that it would overturn the PS classification), but that never happened. Norway continues commercial whaling not, as most people seem to think, simply under its objection to the 1982 decision but also by its 1985 objection to the PS classification.

6. As to Japan’s intended operations in the SOWS the number of minkes to be allowed, 400/year, is entirely arbitrary, presumably reflecting merely what the Chairs’ think Japan might agree to, on economic grounds. No catch limits can be set in accordance with any of the Commission’s management procedures, because any and all of them require estimates of how many minke whales there now are in each part of the Southern Ocean, and the Scientific Committee has so far produced no such agreed estimates, despite twenty years of surveys and trying to do so.

The proposed fin whale limits I have commented on earlier, and they are formally illegal, no country having lodged an objection to the Sanctuary decision as far as the fin whale is concerned. However, the numbers to be awarded are of some interest – 10 each year for three years, then 5 every year for the rest of the ten-year term. One must wonder, since this is now supposed to be a commercial, not a scientific operation, by what logic this new fin-whaling operation is to be phased down if not out? And especially when the responsible Minister in Japan has recently said, publicly, that he intends to seek the construction of a new, bigger, faster, generally more powerful factory ship especially to be able to handle large fin whales!  Anyway we should just note that meat production from ten fin whales is roughly the same as from 100 minke whales, which would constitute a nice “topping up” of the “reduced” minke whale operations.

7. Now it’s worth looking at the proposals for Icelandic fin-whaling: 80/year  That’s about one half of what the Icelanders were being awarded – 167 - before the “moratorium”. That, from an SMS-classified stock, was – like the Northeastern Atlantic minke – an arbitrary number derived simply from the absence of evidence of stock decline. What is, I think, of particular interest now is that such catches would yield more than twice as much frozen whale meat as the combined minke and fin whale catches to be allowed for Japan in the SOWS, and substantially more than would be produced from Norwegian minke catches. Add in the 92 minkes proposed to be allocated to Iceland and we see that Iceland is to be permitted to produce about as much frozen whale meat as Norway and Japan together.  Almost all of that will be exported to Japan provided that ways can be found to move it there without transit through the ports of countries that do not have reservations to CITES listings of fin and minke whales, and if the uncertain Japanese market is ready for it.

8. The proposed gray whale strike limit is 145, with an average catch limit of 129. This is about the same as the limits that have been set one year after another for many years. It takes no account of the reported changes in this population, involving large numbers of dying calves, mothers without calves, and so on, in recent years. This is clearly a matter for serious examination by the Scientific Committee before what is in effect a ten-year block quota is granted to Russian whalers who kill these whales on behalf of the Siberian aborigines.
9. For the reasons given above, and others that could be mentioned in a longer comment, it seems to me obvious that the Commission should by no means take any decision concerning the Chairs’ proposals at the forthcoming meeting in Morocco.  Many things should be examined closely by the Scientific Committee – including more calculations, and more authoritatively, than whatever was done by the Support Group’s SAG in its two-day meeting in Honolulu, and other matters looked at by legal and political advisers to all interested delegations. Both will take time. The consultations on Norfolk Island in 1994, before the SOWS decision, provide a template for that (as does the two-year delay accepted by the French proponents of the SOWS) except that serious work has also in this case to be done by the Scientific Committee which would take it at least a year, and probably two.                                

original article: