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This article was posted on the Humane Society International website on Wednesday 1st May on 2005

Report: If Adopted, RMS Would Lead Whaling Back to the Dark, Pre-Moratorium Days

Humane Society International

Under pressure from Japan and its allies to adopt a set of guidelines and rules to oversee commercial whaling should the moratorium be lifted, the International Whaling Commission will consider a draft Revised Management Scheme at its annual meeting next month that, if accepted, would "repeat the mistakes, and disasters, of its long and infamous history," according to a new report by Humane Society International, Pro Wildlife, and the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society.

The RMS - A Question of Confidence?: Manipulations and Falsifications in Whaling - written by Dr. Sandra Altherr from Pro Wildlife, Sue Fisher from WDCS, and Kitty Block from HSI -takes a look at the draft RMS from a variety of perspectives. The report not only compares the RMS's rules and guidelines with other fisheries agreements with which whaling nations comply, but also compares them against historical patterns in the whaling industry and recent events. The report, in short, finds that pro-whaling nations have subverted the spirit and intent of the IWC, which is to provide for the proper conservation of whales stocks; the pro-whaling nations' ongoing attempts to dilute the current RMS is just the latest example. A moratorium on commercial whaling has been in effect since 1986, but the RMS would be the major step toward lifting the ban and allowing the resumption of commercial whaling.

"The RMS has been undermined, both procedurally and substantially, to such an extent that it now contains legal language so inadequate, inconsistent, vague and confusing that the current draft is too weak to be implemented or enforced," write the authors. Their report will be distributed this June at the annual IWC meeting in Ulsan, South Korea, where Japan hopes commission members will adopt the RMS and resume commercial whaling. Adoption would require a three-quarters majority vote.

The report discloses the following about the draft RMS:

  • It does not ensure the detection of illegal, unreported, and unregulated whaling activities or products coming from whales caught or obtained by non-IWC member nations.

  • It does not address IWC members that conduct so-called scientific whaling, with self-allocated quotas.

  • It does not prevent IWC members for taking an objection to the RMS and conducting whaling under its own terms, or leaving the IWC and then rejoining with a reservation to the RMS provisions.

  • It does not allow the IWC to take any enforcement measures for non-compliance.

  • It does not ensure appropriate funding for all RMS provisions, which will likely lead to their collapse.

  • It contains no procedures for solving disputes between nations.

  • It does not ensure the welfare of the whales hunted.

"The weakness of the draft RMS is no coincidence," say HSI's Block. "Japan and other pro-whaling nations have fought every guideline or rule that even attempted to impose sustainability or accountability or humane concerns into the RMS. Because of their persistence, we are currently left with an RMS that would be as disastrous as those pre-moratorium days when whaling ships routinely underreported the number and size of whales killed as well as the number of female whales killed."

History Repeating Itself?

Whales have been slaughtered for commercial gain in unregulated hunts for centuries. Even after the establishment of the IWC in 1946, commercial whaling was so poorly regulated and unsustainable that it inexorably drove species after species toward extinction.

For decades, a handful of nations killed tens of thousands of whales illegally. Immune from punishment or even investigation by the IWC, whose rules were too weak to ensure compliance, these nations killed protected species, hunted in protected areas and during closed seasons, and killed undersized animals. They covered up their violations by systematically misreporting and under-reporting their catches. For example, the former Soviet Union failed to report the killing of at least 90,000 whales over a 30-year period. Japanese whaling companies also reported only a fraction of their true catches.

Finally, in 1982, when commercial whaling's effect on whale populations became too obvious to ignore, the IWC adopted a moratorium of unlimited duration on commercial whaling; the ban went fully into effect in 1986. Most whaling nations honored the moratorium and phased out their whaling operations. However, Iceland and Japan have defied the moratorium by whaling under an exemption for scientific research provided in the IWC's treaty. This year, for instance, Japan will take ten sperm whales, 50 Bryde's whales, 100 sei whales and 220 minke whales in the North Pacific under the guise of "scientific research." The island nation has also reportedly threatened to increase its scientific hunt's annual kill to more than 800 minkes as well as kill 50 humpback and 50 fin whales, both of which are endangered species. Japan's scientific whaling is commercial whaling in every way except the name.

On the other hand, Norway lodged an objection to the moratorium in 1982 and, exempt from its effect, freely resumed commercial whaling in 1993. The country has said it will increase its minke hunt in the North Atlantic to almost 800 animals this year. Norway is also considering increasing its self-allocated quota to 1,800 whales a year -and to start scientific whaling.

In an attempt to bring this renegade whaling under control, the IWC has since 1993 been negotiating a new management regime for commercial whaling called the Revised Management Scheme. Some 12 years later, Japan is now pushing for quick adoption of the RMS because, under one scenario, adoption of the RMS would immediately lift the moratorium on commercial whaling. Japan, in fact, is pushing so hard that the country has threatened to leave the IWC if members don't adopt the RMS at the June meeting in South Korea.

This pressure from Japan and its many allies has forced other members of the IWC to accept unworkable and unreasonable compromises on the RMS. In some ways, as the authors of A Question of Confidence? note, these IWC members "appear now to believe that a poor RMS is politically preferable to an undermined moratorium. This reasoning stems in part from recent and repeated increases in whaling effort by Japan, Norway, and Iceland and a concerted effort by Japan in particular to encourage pro-whaling countries to join the IWC."

"In its current state, the RMS would be a management scheme in name only," Block says. "It's fundamentally flawed. It would provide no real safeguards for stocks or for individual whales and it would provide no real consequences to nations that flouted the nominal rules it would impose. It does not even match the measures taken in modern fishery treaties to manage hunting of species far less vulnerable to cheating and over-exploitation than whales. In short, the draft RMS would create the same sort of chaotic conditions that led to the moratorium in the first place."

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