INTERNATIONAL REGULATION OF WHALING:
Copyright: Ronald B. Mitchell
University of Oregon
28 June 1995
BACKGROUND: THE PROBLEM
In 1946, the major whaling countries of the world signed the International
Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW) in an effort, as the preamble
to the convention states, "to provide for the proper conservation
of whale stocks and thus make possible the orderly development of the whaling
industry." The Convention specifically noted that "proper"
regulation of whaling would allow whale stocks to replenish over time so
that more whales could "be captured without endangering these natural
resources." The parties sought to design the Convention to confine
"whaling operations . . . to those species best able to sustain exploitation."
The ICRW was originally established in response to two essentially nonenvironmental
economic concerns: a classic "tragedy of the commons" problem
of overuse of an open access common pool resource that threatened to destroy
the stock of whales and thereby destroy the whaling industry itself; and
an overcapitalization problem in which whaling companies were spending
ever-larger sums of money on whaling equipment to compete for a diminishing
number of harder-to-find whales. To achieve this goal, the ICRW established
a "schedule" of whale quotas and established the International
Whaling Commission or IWC composed of government representatives as the
body responsible for setting whale quotas each year. These whale catch
quotas were to be set by 3/4 majority votes "based on scientific findings
[that] take into consideration the interests of the consumers of whale
products and the whaling industry."
In the 1970s and 1980s, increased numbers of nonwhaling states joined the
ICRW under pressure from domestic environmental groups and international
nongovernmental organizations. At the same time, the US government was
pressing nonmember whaling states to join the IWC so they would be more
susceptible to international pressures. By the mid-1980s, however, these
two contrary pressures produced a 3/4 majority of member states that adopted
a moratorium on all commercial whaling for ten years over the opposition
of seven of the nine states whaling commercially at the time. Support for
the moratorium came from a coalition composed of a) states convinced by
a growing scientific consensus that further whaling of several whale species
would almost certainly lead to the extinction of those species and b) other
states that perceived whaling as morally wrong and unnecessary regardless
of the state of the whale stocks. The moratorium was to take effect in
1985. However, four of the seven states that opposed the moratorium (Japan,
Norway, Peru, and Russia) used the ICRW provision allowing the lodging
of a legal objection that made the provision nonbinding for their state.
Japan, Peru, and Russia eventually accepted the moratorium under pressure
from the US. Norway has maintained its objection and conducted limited
commercial whaling of minke whales in 1993, 1994, and 1995. Iceland withdrew
its membership in the Convention in 1993 in opposition to the continuation
of the commercial moratorium.
The moratorium on commercial whaling required re-evaluation of the status
of whale stocks after 10 years with an understanding that the moratorium
would be rescinded for those stocks that had recovered sufficiently to
sustain commercial whaling. The ICRW also provided for continued taking
of limited numbers of whales under provisions allowing "scientific
whaling" and "aboriginal whaling." Since the moratorium
began, Japan has conducted a rigorous scientific research program involving
an annual take of approximately 300 minke whales but sells the whale meat
on the commercial market. Korea, Iceland, and Norway have conducted smaller
scientific whaling programs. Using arguments based on their traditional
cultural and socio-economic dependence on whale meat, the IWC has approved
the following aboriginal catches over the last several years:
|St. Vincent & Grenadines
* N.B.: These are rough estimates of original and current stocks.
Sources: International Whaling Commission, Annual Report, 1994,
and personal communication, 7 July 1995; Oceanus, 32:1, Spring 1989;
NMFS, Endangered Whales Status Update 1991.
Two different groups are currently requesting the right to recommence whaling:
commercial whalers and traditional whalers. Japan and Norway have led recent
pressure in the whaling commission to remove the commercial whaling moratorium
and allow limited whaling of minke whales. They argue that the stocks of
minke whales have recovered sufficiently and have sufficient replenishment
rates that they can sustain low, carefully-set, levels of commercial whaling.
Cetologists (whale scientists) confirm that
- approximately 700,000-900,000 minke whales currently swim the world's
- that this number significantly exceeds estimated populations of minke whales prior to the commencement of commercial whaling in the 1700s because minkes have taken over the ecological niche left by the decrease in stocks of larger whales due to
- that allowing a commercial take of 1/2 of 1% (about 4,000 whales per year) from this population would allow the minke whale stock to continue to increase in size since its replenishment rate is over 4%.
Japan and Norway have both threatened to follow Iceland's lead and withdraw
from the IWC if the commercial moratorium is not rescinded. They have noted
that if they choose to do so, they will set their own whaling quotas and
will not allow international observers of any sort on their whaling ships.
New arguments for aboriginal whaling are also being heard. Just this year
(1995), the native American Makah tribe in Washington state also began
pressing for the right to recommence the taking of gray whales. The tribe
argues a) that the treaty between the tribe and the United States government
guarantees them the right to take whales and b) that recommencing whaling
provides a crucial means to preserve their traditional culture and to redirect
tribal youth away from crime, alcoholism, and other modern social ills.
The commission has rejected Japan's requests for a catch allowance of 50
minke whales (from a coastal population of 25,000 minke whales) for three
small Japanese coastal communities that have argued for their own cultural
and socio-economic dependence on whale meat.
The American delegate to the IWC has asked you, her adviser, to provide
a three page double-spaced memo with a recommended policy position for
next year's IWC meeting. She has asked you to make sure your advice includes
recommendations on each of the following points:
The delegate has requested that your policy paper include a discussion
of the likely consequences of adopting your recommendation, including but
not limited to the following:
- whether to end the moratorium and allow commercial whaling of 1/2 of 1% of the estimated current population of minke whales,
- whether to request a new "aboriginal whaling" permit for the Makah,
- whether to request renewal of the "aboriginal whaling" permit for the Inuit,
- whether to recommend approval of Japan's request for a "scientific whaling" permit, and
- whether to recommend approval of Japan's request for an "aboriginal whaling" permit for its coastal whaling communities.
- The likely consequences for the population of various species of whales,
especially the impact on the likelihood of extinction.
- The domestic political response of the Makah and Inuit tribes, of nongovernmental environmental groups, and of the public at large.
- The long-term ability to influence and control levels of commercial whaling in the world, and maintain the viability of the IWC regime.
- The likelihood of compliance with your recommended policy and the ease with which monitoring of that compliance can be conducted.
- The likelihood that Japan and Norway will remain members of the IWC and the likelihood that Iceland can be induced to rejoin the IWC.