Iceland stopped commercial whaling shortly after the international ban in 1986, but they say they will start again by 2004.
This special meeting of the International Whaling Commission
(IWC) began with a victory for whalers as Iceland squeaked by with
just enough votes to become a full member of the commission. But
unlike most members of the IWC, Iceland won't be bound to the
commercial whaling ban because they joined with a reservation.
Iceland does not accept the current IWC moratorium on commercial
whaling because the government's ratification papers to the
convention include a reservation to the ban since it came into
affect in 1986.
Iceland stopped whaling but left the IWC in protest after the
moratorium was agreed. They have been trying to get back in ever
And now Iceland says it will resume whaling in 2006 catching Fin
and Minke whales.
So how can a country join an international convention without
being bound by its rules?
Richard Page, a Greenpeace oceans campaigner believes this will
seriously undermine the credibility of the commission and sets a
highly damaging precedent. "What is to stop other countries leaving
the IWC and rejoining with objections to decisions they don't
like?" said Page.
Why did the commission agree to this?
Whaling nations are reaping the rewards of the Government of
Japan's vote buying strategy. Of the nineteen votes cast in favour
of Iceland's rejoining with a reservation, nine were from countries
whose position in the IWC is directly linked to their receipt of
fisheries grant aid from Japan.
In fact, this special meeting is being held to settle the score
between the Japanese government and the US and Russian governments
over subsistence whaling by the countries' indigenous people.
The US and Russian indigenous people who hunt whales for
subsistance do not fall under the IWC's moratorium on commercial
whaling and quotas. These are based on scientific advice and are
usually agreed by consensus. However, at the May IWC meeting, the
Japanese government tried to link the joint Russian/ US aboriginal
subsistance quota to a commercial quota for its own whalers and
then used its bloc of bought votes to block the subsistence quota
when its own commercial request was not granted.
"The Fisheries Agency of Japan was clearly attempting to
blackmail the US by using the vote bought countries to block the
aboriginal quota," said Page. "They have said they will allow the
quota to pass at this meeting, but there is no guarantee that the
Fisheries Agency won't employ this tactic at future meetings."
The Government of Japan is set on buying a return to commercial
whaling and today's victory accepting Iceland into the commission
will strengthen their pro-whaling bloc. Unless action is taken to
stop vote buying, they may succeed in overturning the whaling
Next month they will get another chance to weaken regulation on
the trade in whale products. The Japanese government's vote buying
offensive may spread into other conservation bodies. Japan has
proposed that the Convention on International Trade in Endangered
Species (CITES) should end its ban on trade in whale products and
has called for a vote at the next CITES meeting in being held in