Why Greenpeace won’t compromise on commercial whaling

Feature story - June 21, 2010
As the International Whaling Commission's (IWC) annual meeting begins in Morocco, there has been a flurry of media coverage over a possible 'deal' or 'compromise.' Often the details, and sometimes the central points, can get lost as things are translated, edited, reworked and re-edited for the media, so we wanted to take the opportunity here to spell out just what Greenpeace’s position is.

This meeting is causing a stir because there is the chance of some sort of deal to address the future of the IWC. Reform has been a long time coming, and everyone agrees that the IWC needs an overhaul. The current deadlock means that the Commission is effectively prevented from taking on the serious conservation work that is so desperately needed. And, of course, we have the deplorable situation of a global ban on commercial whaling, which is being flouted by Japan, Norway and Iceland.

It's fair to say different countries will be hoping for different things from a future IWC.

It's also evident that Greenpeace has been a staunch opponent of commercial whaling for over three decades, our activists at sea have risked their own safety to protect individual whales and we now have activists in Japan who are facing the prospect of a year-and-a-half in jail for daring to uncover corruption within the whaling industry.

Further, the Sunday Times has uncovered that the corruption surrounding the whaling industry stretches around the globe. It certainly isn't Greenpeace activists who should be forced to answer for their behavior in court.

We are, and remain, opposed to all commercial whaling. Commercial whaling has always led to the overexploitation of whale populations, and has driven many species to the very brink of extinction. The moratorium on commercial whaling has been a huge conservation success, and one that we must, at all costs, defend. Yet despite this ban, whaling still happens - through objections, loopholes, and reservations. This is not acceptable.

We think that any progressive deal that comes forward from the IWC from pro-conservation countries like Germany, the UK and Latin American nations must respect the ban on commercial whaling, bring all the whaling under control of the IWC, and stop the most reprehensible elements immediately.

The six key elements we, along with WWF and Pew, have identified are:

  • End whaling in the Southern Ocean - 80% of the world's great whales live, or feed in the Southern Ocean. This ocean has seen the most devastation of whales historically by factory whaling. The Southern Ocean is supposed to be an internationally-recognized whale sanctuary, yet Japan still operates "scientific" whaling here.
  • End commercial trade in whale meat and whale products - for some current whaling, and any future expansion, international trade would be a vital component. It is already essential for Iceland's hunting of fin whales. By respecting current agreements like the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), and ensuring no international trade, we can eliminate a key driver in the future expansion of commercial whaling.
  • Eliminate all unilateral quotas - at the moment Japan, Norway and Iceland just make up their own quotas. No one agrees them. They are based on no internationally agreed scientific assessments and do not have any legitimacy from the IWC.
  • End the hunting of endangered species and threatened populations - this is, as they say, a no brainer. Endangered species, like fin whales, and endangered populations should simply not be hunted. Yet currently the international community stands by powerless whilst this happens.
  • End all 'objections' and 'reservations' - Iceland and Norway's commercial whaling takes place because they choose not to recognise the moratorium. Japan meanwhile chooses not to recognise the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. It must first be compulsory for all whaling to be brought under the control of the IWC so that the IWC can then control it.
  • Ensure any interim quotas are based on internationally-agreed scientific assessments - if there are interim quotas to be granted, they must be limited to countries already whaling so as to avoid any future expansion, and can only be granted based on internationally-agreed scientific recommendations.

All of this, as far as we are concerned, needs to be part of a plan to end commercial whaling in its entirety. In other words, it's about taking back control of the whaling that is currently happening, then respecting and enforcing the moratorium on commercial whaling.

The caveat is, there is no deal, proposal, or compromise effectively on the table at this year's IWC meeting. A suggested deal floated a couple of months back was an unacceptable compromise, but also only the start of a conversation. The six elements are not a proposal either, just key factors that must be present before any proposal can be considered progressive.

The current process is an opportunity for conservation-minded countries to seize the initiative and move forward to protect whales. Any deal that is done must be agreed by the countries party to the IWC, and you can be assured that we are urging them to take the strongest action possible, and end commercial whaling for good.

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