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The First Vote on Aboriginal Hunts

Daybreak reveals a gentle milky sky and a flock of some thirty tovi parakeets cackle noisily on the telegraph wires overhead as we head to the conference centre. These small parrots are queued up for breakfast provided by the nice man who has a bird table out on veranda of his apartment. The gentle sky may be a kindness as there may be a few sore heads (and feet) this morning further to the reception provided by Panama last night when many delegates took to the floor and danced the light fantastic to Latin rhythms.

At nine am sharp with what might be called Swiss precision, Chairman Bruno is in his seat and shortly after this calls the meeting to order and thanks Panama for a nice reception during which he hopes many delegates had useful discussions. (This would have been difficult noting the volume of the bands but we can hope.)

The redoubtable Doug DeMaster, Commissioner for the US, now briefing makes a presentation of the three ‘bundled’ aboriginal quota requests from St Vincent and the Grenadines (St V &G), Russian and the USA. [Note that the request for an increased quota from Denmark is not in this same ‘bundle’ which it is proposed would be voted on as one quota.]

All the catch limits he tells us are sustainable as agreed by the scientific committee. He had intended to be brief but, further to the comments yesterday afternoon, he believes that he will need to say more and address the three issues raised yesterday: Whether we go to bilateral meetings is irrelevant. The six year block will need to be review edin 2018 and a meeting is scheduled then…. The scientific committee (SC) advice is very clear and there is no scientific basis for a five year block period being safer than a six year one. The results of considerable efforts from the esteemed members scientific committee have also endorsed the carry-over aspect. Finally the issue of whether St V & G meets the term aboriginal subsistence whaling – the Commission has previously agreed that it does and they have improved their hunt. We should not reward good behaviour with a vote against it.

George Noongwook the chairman of the Alaskan Whaling Commission is brought to the microphone. He represents four of the Alaskan villages that depend on whales. Their life is different to the life most of us experience. They have one local store with very local groceries and other produce. A pound of meat might cost 11 dollars there. There are a few jobs in the village apart from working for local government or the school. They don’t get most of their food from the store but from the wild. Most of you – he adds addressing the hall – will never visit our villages but the statements that you make here have a very real impact on peoples’ lives. We take the rules very seriously. People cannot sleep when the quotas come up for renewal. People worry about how they will feed their families. Our bowhead stock is healthy, we know this from our observations and science confirms it. Most of you here will never have to prove your need for food but we have been told that we need to do this. In 1997, the IWC asked us to increase the efficiency of out hunt and we have done that.. and despite deteriorating ice conditions. We continue to work on upgrades to our weapons. We have faced many threats to our quotas – this madness has gone on for many years and this is devastating to us. I don’t want to keep saying negative things. That is not my way. It is not the way of my people but you need to know that what you decide here affects us. We are a people just as you are even if our way of life seems alien. Our food comes from the oceans and not the grocery store. If you would like to learn more several of us have left our families. Please come to our booth at the Expo centre and thank you in advance for your support for our proposal: a proposal by the Russian Federation, St Vincent and the Grenadines and the USA. Thank you very much.

There will be a possibility at the end for NGO interventions, says Chairman Bruno, but first he opens the floor for the Commissioners and the secretariat start to prepare the special catapult.

The Dominican Republic feels that in the Caribbean humpback whales are looked at differently. 40,000 people go whale watching in their sanctuary. We have not had aboriginals in our region for three hundred years. St V & G has broken many rules. We do not support their hunt.

Japan said he has listened carefully. We think sustainable use based on scientific findings is important and Scientific Committee has said that it is possible to have sustainable use. We strongly support the proposal.

Ecuador agrees with aboriginal whaling as long as it is properly supported. However, we reject the application from St V and G. It is not aboriginal. It is a recent development and there is a lack of compliance and we ask them to withdraw the request.

Mexico speaks next he notes that there is no problem with the stocks that the US means to hunt – 12,300 animals in this stock which has recovered and this has been helped by the Alaskan Whaling Commission. The implementation review of the bowhead whales is sound and the scientific committee should be complemented. Russia also complies with the rules. The case of St V and G is complicated. It is in a single package and we would have liked to have dealt with each hunt separately. St V and G is much closer to commercial than aboriginal whaling. We would like to offer technical support to St V and G in terms of whale watching.

Guinea said the SC has agreed sustainable use is possible and will not harm the stocks.

Colombia believes the requests should be taken separately and the St V and G request came late. The information provided yesterday should have been presented to the Scientific Committee. They too offer help to strengthen skills in whale watching in St V and G.

Chairman Bruno now asks countries to associate with other and be brief. He is throwing that line.

Chile is worried about the proposal too, including the timing of hunts and associates with the Dominican Republic and others. They support Russia and the US but would like to see separation of the St V and G proposal because they do not comply and challenge the moratorium.

Costa Rica respects aboriginal whaling in the case of the USA and Russia but regarding the request from St V &G it does not have sufficient scientific rigour and she speaks of discrepancies in their reporting.

St Kitts and Nevis congratulates the aboriginal whaling caucus for coming together to defend their rights in this forum. He speaks with increasing volume and notes that we are all conscious of the needs of coastal and marginal peoples as confirmed at Rio +20. He congratulates the USA for showing the leadership and courage here. Rights must not be trampled on by some here, including those who in their own countries are struggling to defend the rights of their own people. This proposal has met all the standards required by our Commission. It falls within international acceptable norms and we must underline the fact that the law of the sea convention give coastal states the sovereign right to utilise marine resounded in their waters as they see fit and for some states is rude and bordering on racism. We small vulnerable countries are being singled out. This is scandalising the reputations of fellow Caribbean and Latin American countries and congratulations to the Dominican Republic on the millions that they make from whale watching. St V and G only wants fours whales from a stock of ten thousand. Who gives Argentina and others the right to tell othershow to use their resources. These countries – he add with great emphasis and volume – are ‘rude’.

Just yesterday, adds Daven Joseph for St Kitts and Nevis, I was listening to the news. Australia wishes to sell live cows to Indonesia. The amount of cows coming out of Australia could take up all the land space on Panama! Would we tell Australia how! to sell four of these cows? NO! This is ‘colonialism reborn’. Some countries are trying to impose their will on a small country. Every country comes here with its own interests but we must come here in the spirit of compromise. We have guidelines from the scientific committee and clear protocols.

I ask you to desist from bigotry and do what is right!

The Chairman asks St Kitts and Nevis to come to an end. And he does – and the Chairman add sternly that he is not interested in discussions about whale watching or cows in Australia.

St Lucia is called to the microphone and as this is the first time she is speaking she thanks the hosts and, further to the reception last night, calls for dance-offs rather than debates. She tells the Dominican Republic that there are full blooded indigenous peoples living in the relevant countries and she agrees with the US about the sustainability of the hunts. St Lucia always bases her decisions on science and food security is also important. The whales are being taken to provide food!… do not split this proposal this will build distrust and animosity. … let us be rationale and not point fingers about what is aboriginal or not. The question is are these hunts sustainable; and.. yes they are.

Iceland supports the block of quotas and celebrates the fact that he has whaling and whale-watching side by side. This has been going on for ten years and they are compatible. ‘It is very easy to run this together.’

India enjoyed the reception and says so. He is not opposed to subsistence whaling based on actual needs and scientific assessment. But India is opposed to commercial use.

Cyprus is called to the microphone and speaks on the behalf of the member states and supports this proposal. The EU is committed to supporting the rights of indigeous peoples and the need to meet their subsistence needs. We are guided by the precautionary principle and the scientific committee and I think that is all Mr Chair. (And apparently it is).

Apparently Korea also had a nice reception and has sympathy for the needs of aboriginal peoples and stresses that Korean coastal whaling shares much in common with aboriginal whaling. They too have a long history going back to prehistoric times and in some areas such as Ulsan whale meat is still enjoyed. They would like to support aboriginal subsistence whaling but he emphasises that certain peoples in certain countries have suffered from the moratorium – some people who had traditionally taken minke whales for food. Fishermen in Ulsan area had been expecting to take whales again for food after the moratorium ends. And he mentions the need to recognised cultural diversity.

Antigua and Barbuda associates with the supporters of the proposal and adds that in 2012 we need to respect the Scientific Committee. The request before us will not harm the stocks. Food and nutritional security are human rights and no country should have to prove its need for food.

Denmark notes that the three countries in the quota block currently being discussed have taken a different path to Denmark but he supports them whole-heartedly. He fears that the IWC will go redundant if we don’t accept this request. The Inuit peoples should not have this need each year and he opposes splitting the proposal.  

Some other speakers follow and we will just sample a few here – South Africa promises not to speak about other large animals and fully supports the proposal. Switzerland also fully supports it and opposes splitting it up. Israel thinks the same. Argentina echoes the concerns and comments of others in the Buenos Aires Groupo. He is unable to support the proposal as it is. Brazil makes similar sentiments. Monaco states again that there is no evidence of earlier hunting in the Caribbean. He says we need a historian to help us in the commission not just scientsits. He will not interfere in consensus.   The NGOs are now allowed to speak Louise Mitchell Joseph a native of Bequi now addresses the Commission. She supports aboriginal whaling where needs are genuine. This is not the case in St V & G. Never in the history of archaeology in her country has there been any evidence of whaling associated with aboriginal peoples. There are no petroglyths. This is an activity learnt from Yankee whalers. It cannot be justified on economic grounds. It is conducted by people of mixed race. Not all of the people on Bequi eat the meat – much of it is taken to the main land. The current trend amongst young people in Bequi shows declining interest and finally she notes it has a negative impact on tourism before Chairman Bruno cuts her off.

Matthew speaks for the Bequi whalers. We are not gross exporters he says. We all have to be green but not necessarily the same hue [of green]. Some seek to impose their values on communities still recovering from colonial suppression. He does not agree that indigenous communities cannot use new technologies to further their lifestyles.

Chairman Bruno: There are no formal requests for splitting, so is there consensus

Loud static fills the air and a few pieces of moist tumble weed roll through.

Argentina and Ecuador call for more time to consult.

We break for coffee and more blogging.

We return and find chairman Bruno calling on the congregation to now tell him if we come to consensus.

Uruguay, on the behalf of the Buenos Aires Groupo, replies that there is consensus on Russia and the USA but not on St V and G. He asks for the Chairman’s advice.

Mexico urgently calls on Panama to host another reception on Thursday (evidently Lorenzo needs to dance some more). He moves on to ask for the opportunity to vote separately on St V and G.

The Chairman calls on the US to speak. The US opposes efforts to divide the proposal and re-states that they all (in his opinion) meet the standards required and a joint proposal should be considered.

So, says the Chairman we must go to a vote and Simon Brockington, the Executive Secretary (and a renown dancer as of last night)  now explains again how the voting procedure works but Antigua and Barbuda asks for clarification – are we voting separately or jointly she asks?

Jointly says the Chairman. A distinguished Commissioner is seen sprinting across the slippery marble to his seat.

Simon says there are enough commissioners here to be quorate. He can see enough commissioners or alternate commissioners in their seats. Oman’s credentials are not in order and will not be called on to vote.

The vote by roll call begins. The EU nations vote ‘yes’. The Latin American countries vote ‘no’ with the exception of Mexico. The Caribbean countries ‘yes’. Australia ‘yes’ and so on. The Czech Republic is registered as not participating. Gabon votes no; all other west African nation yes. India abstains. Monaco abstains.

48 yes, 10 no, 2 abstain and 1 does ‘not participate’

Mexico explains his vote. His national laws require him to safeguard the cultures of indigenous peoples – he asks that the bundling of quotas does not happen again. He supports the US and Russia because it is inline with the aboriginal defections and not an increase. He reiterates his concern about the St V and G hunt.

Costa Rica respects the hunts of Russia and the USA and then makes similar comments to Mexico. Ecuador follows suit, as do others including Argentina. Monaco similarly notes he does not support the request from St V and G – the fusion left us in a situation of having to abstain and calls for this mechanism of fusing quotas to be abandoned.

The Chairman now calls on Greenland via Denmark to make the presentation of their hunt. This is a multi-media event with many contributors and a long power point. We shall focus here only on a few issues and you will find further information about this proposal elsewhere on the web.

Greenland stresses that this is a multi-species hunt based on weight of meat and that several species are taken, including bowhead whales from Disko Bay. [They do not mention their takes of small cetaceans which include orca.] The population used in the calculation of this request is the whole population of Greenland

Whale products are sold in restaurants – ‘people like to go out and eat nice dinners once in a whale , as anywhere else’. Greenland does not consider this a commercialisation of hunting. 

The floor is opened now for comment.

Norway speaks of the embarrassment of having to make needs statements.

St Lucia refers to ‘water water everywhere and not a drop to drink’ (and probably by doing so wins some kind of a bet) but that in the case of Greenland it is ‘ice ice everywhere’. The Scientific Committee supports this and so does she. If this quota is denied other resources including small cetaceans may be targeted to meet needs, she adds ominously

Japan says that they are consistent in their approach on each proposal and the Scientific Committee repeats its advice that science will not harm the stock. As the Danish Commissioner explains and the Greenland representatives told us we can obviously and definitely confirm the indigenous nature of this hunt.

Iceland notes that Greenlandic whaling is based on scientific advice from the scientific committee and the current needs are not met by the status quo, so they support the proposal.

The Dominican Republic notes that they seem to be working on the conservation of whales in his country, so others can eat them. Has the Scientific Committee ever looked at the issue of whether watched whales are easier to catch. He also comments on the only very limited data on meat conversion factors based on very limited sampling and weighting. He is equally concerned about the lack of inspectors. The Greenland white paper also notes that because of pollution concerns, whale meat is not recommended to pregnant women and children but the tourists are never informed of this.

Brazil now speaks on the behalf of the Buenos Aires group. They do not see this as an aboriginal take. The Scientific Committee is working on the development of long-term strike limits and the Scientific Committee has advised against a multi-species approaches. He would like the Scientific Committee to finish its work before this quota goes forward.

St Kitts and Nevis briefly fully endorses the Greenland proposal.

Heavy rain is now falling on the roof.

Switzerland respects the rights of indigenous peoples and if some parts of the meat are sold commercially that is acceptable. To deny this would be to impose a false and romantic view of indigenous whaling – they support the proposal.

Ecuador associates with the Dominican Republic and states there is a strong commercialised element.

Russia notes the SC supported the catch for Greenland and there is a need for the meat and there is a need for products from the hunt to be exchanged for money, as noted in the results of the working group. Exchange of whale products into medical products further to research demonstrated that substitution of rational food causes shortening of life and increase in disease. Food resources should be diversified and this diversification is what people are used to and marine mammals cannot be substituted by domestic animals as suggested by some, for example India. The substitution of rice for tea is not recommended he adds. He adds that there are two NAMMCO countries whaling – Canada and Indonesia – that are not members of the IWC. Do the opponents of this hunt wish Greenland to also move outside of the IWC. It is not in our interests to isolate Greenland. We should adopt this decision by consensus.

The Chairman seems to sigh, but we move on.

Argentina says the reception was very good and thanks Greenland/Denmark for the information provided and then refers to the conversion factors [meat to whales]. The Scientific Committee has commented on the lack of details and concerns about the weighing procedure.

Antigua and Barbuda calls on the scientific committee for support.

[A few EU nations have been seen running around but none speak.]

The Chairman notes that this item will be held open but he is not planning a further discussion on this. Is this OK for you Denmark?

Denmark says that he has heard no rejection of his proposal just some concerns.

[He might add that he has heard nothing at all from the EU nations here.]

He agrees with Brazil that the long-term Strike-Limit-Algorithm is needed. He thinks there could be consensus here (is he not listening). ‘So my feeling Mr Chair is that there is some kind of consensus… at least try’!

But the Chairman breaks for lunch and a torrential deluge follows which may well affect any subsequent voting as many delegates may be stranded in local hostelries (if they have ventured beyond the relative safety of the El Panama complex). Some smaller NGOs may have been swept away all together. We shall see.

Über Laura Zahn

Unternehmenskooperationen - Laura Zahn ist bei WDC Deutschland verantwortlich für die Kooperationen mit Unternehmen.