Sunday 01 February 2009

Need to be wary of whale-trading proposal

Concerns have been raised about a possible compromise in the International Whaling Commission (IWC) whereby Japan might scale back or even discontinue its Antarctic whaling program (JARPA II) in return for taking more whales in the North Pacific.

Details of the proposal tabled, and the discussion that followed, are unclear because they took place at a closed-door meeting of the Small Working Group on the Future of the IWC. The formation of the Small Working Group (SWG), which includes Australia, was agreed by consensus at the 60th IWC Annual Meeting in June 2008.

It is not unusual for SWGs to be formed, or for some meetings to be restricted to member nation representatives (and sometimes invited scientists) only, with NGOs and other observers excluded. For this SWG it was agreed that there would be one or two closed "non-decision-making meetings". The first of these took place in the USA last September. The second was convened in December in Cambridge, UK and it was at this meeting that the compromise proposal was tabled.

The SWG is next scheduled to assemble in Rome in March this year to report to an "Intersessional IWC Meeting". It is understood that this meeting will be open to accredited observers, including NGOs, but not to the media.

The topic is then on the agenda for the IWC Annual Meeting in June.This is the meeting where formal agreements and decisions, if any, will be made.

While information remains confidential for the time being, it is expected that a key bargaining point for Japan might be the allowance of a quota of whales for up to four coastal communities. Since 1986 when the commercial whaling ban (technically) came into force, Japan has repeatedly sought "interim relief quotas" for Abashiri, Ayukawa, Wadaura and Taiji because of "hardship" caused by the moratorium.

While not revealing the details of the proposal, Australian Environment Minister Peter Garrett has stated that there is no shift in Australia's policy of complete opposition to commercial and "scientific" whaling.

The position of the AWCS is that Australia should be involved in the SWG.  Australia must not give any ground on its opposition to commercial/scientific whaling, and must not become involved in trading whale killing in one location with whale killing in another.  But it is really important to be fully involved in the discussion - to be totally aware of what's being proposed, understand the position of each country on the issue, and to be a voice against the schemes of whaling nations.


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