Then U.S. President Bill Clinton’s decision rejecting import sanctions against Japan for expanding its whale research programs in the Northwest Pacific was conveyed to the speaker of the House of Representatives and the president of the Senate in a letter dated Dec. 29, 2000. It concerned the September certification by the secretary of commerce that Japan’s whale research activities “diminish the effectiveness of the International Whaling Commission’s conservation program.”
The president’s decision clearly demonstrates that his administration’s policy on whaling issues was perversely influenced by extreme anti-whaling organizations and badly out of step with reality since only from such a perspective can the small number of whales Japan takes for research purposes from abundant stocks be seen as diminishing the effectiveness of the IWC. In fact, whales have been saved and there is no need for insisting on total protection of whales for conservation reasons. Further, since Japan’s actions are perfectly legal under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, trade sanctions are unwarranted and could have been easily challenged by Japan under WTO rules.
Clinton’s decision contradicts the rhetoric of former Secretary of Commerce Norman Mineta, who referred to Japan’s whale research program as “absurd,” and the misinformed statement of former U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky, who incorrectly called Japan’s research catch of whales a “contravention of its international obligations.”
The U.S. should now acknowledge that its anti-whaling position has been based more on a narrow moralistic viewpoint rather than science. It should also accept that other views have legitimacy and that, along with the need for biological diversity, it is also important to respect cultural diversity. Japan is not suggesting that the U.S. resume commercial whaling but on the other hand, if there are some countries who wish to resume whaling on a sustainable basis to provide food and satisfy cultural and dietary practices, why should the U.S. interfere?
Japan and the U.S. have been on opposite sides of the whaling issue since the 1960s, following the end of commercial whaling in the U.S. Anti-whaling has been a political “freebie” for politicians in the U.S. and other countries who no longer have a domestic constituency in support of whaling. It has allowed them to appear “green” without cost.
But the fervor of the anti-whaling rhetoric, encouraged and supported by the fundraising campaigns of environmental activist organizations, has made it a “false green” that misinforms the public and has greatly diminished the credibility of the IWC as a resource management body. In fact, whales have been saved and there is no need for insisting on total protection of whales. Whaling is no longer a conservation issue.
The anti-whaling position ignores comments from the IWC’s Scientific Committee that praise both the quality and quantity of data from Japan’s whale research programs and state unequivocally that the results provide valuable information for management of whale stocks. It is “false green” because it is a position based on moral judgment rather than science that plainly violates the convention and international law.
Opposition in the U.S. to Japan’s whale research is also a “hypocritical green” since the U.S. supports the killing of more than 60 bowhead whales in Alaska from a truly endangered and drastically depleted population of 7,000, and since U.S. whaling produces about the same amount of whale meat each year as is taken in Japan’s research programs.
Change in the current standoff within the IWC, which was institutionalized by the adoption of the moratorium on commercial whaling in 1982, requires a new perspective and a catalyst. This catalyst may just be the acceptance by governments that responsible fisheries management requires the use of multi-species management that takes account of the fact that cetaceans consume up to five times the amount of marine resources as is harvested by humans.
Significant changes have occurred since the early days of commercial whaling. Specifically, scientific information on the biology of whales and the status of whale stocks has greatly improved. Many whale stocks are now at high levels of abundance and could be harvested in sustainable manner. The Scientific Committee of the IWC has developed a risk averse method for calculating catch quotas (called the revised management procedure or, RMP) with built-in safety factors to allow for even large discrepancies in population estimates as well as uncertainties related to stock boundaries and the effects of environmental changes. Further, new techniques (DNA analysis) are available to monitor international trade in whale products and prevent illegal trade and poaching.
Old commercial whaling was a wasteful use of resources characterized by inadequate scientific information, inadequate management, and inadequate surveillance and control that put the protection of whaling interests over conservation. In contrast, new sustainable whaling would be based on the IWC’s Scientific Committee’s comprehensive assessment of whale stocks and the RMP with international observers, monitoring and surveillance.
New sustainable whaling will not lead to over-harvesting, will not lead to illegal trade or poaching and will not compromise conservation of whale stocks.
The fact is that the principles of sustainable use of resources and respect for cultural diversity are accepted as standards worldwide. The position of those opposed to whaling is contrary to these widely accepted principles that have now been enshrined in numerous international agreements and other documents. When the new administration reviews the whaling issue it is unlikely to discover a convincing argument for maintaining Clinton’s anti-whaling policies.
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