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Tuesday, June 13, 2006

i don't think greenpeace is gonna like this...

According to this article at The Age:
In the face of sluggish demand for whale meat, the Fisheries Agency in Japan is behind a newly formed wholesaler established to boost whale meat consumption as stocks derived from scientific whaling rise.

However, the move is touching off criticism that the government is trying to fuel consumption, and comes prior to an International Whaling Commission (IWC) conference to be held in the Caribbean nation of St Kitts and Nevis for five days from Friday, when scientific whaling will be one of the agenda items.
In the article, freelance journalist Junko Sakuma is quoted as saying:
"It's strange to find the government using taxpayers' money to urge people to eat whale meat by insisting there is a surplus of whales caught using taxes."
Interesting point. However, I wonder how many whales there might be if commercial whaling hadn't been banned by the worlds' governments. Is there a more private-property based solution that would encourage whalers to farm for the long term which would encourage sustainable whale populations? Such a tactic has apparently worked well with elephants in Africa.


Blogger David said...

It should be noted that Junko Sakuma is actually not just a freelance journalist, but an activist associated with cetacean protection groups. She has timed her report with the IWC meeting for maximum press coverage.

I live here in Japan, and actually had some whale meat dish last night over dinner with some Japanese friends. The Japan I hear about in the media is very different to the Japan in which I live :-)

On your question, it's worth noting that when the moratorium was introduced, all whale stocks that were in a depleted state had already been given protection by the IWC. For example, the humpbacks in the Southern Ocean had protection since 1964, more than 20 years before the moratorium came into effect.

The species that did get protection with the moratorium were those such as the Antarctic minke, that were known to be abundant, although there were uncertainties around biological characteristics. Other than species such as this, the moratorium has prevented whaling for any stocks. Even in the future, the IWC recently developed a "management procedure" under which a zero catch limit would be set for any stock below 54% of it's pre-whaling estimate. That's effectively a ban on hunting most whales, at the current time. The moratorium serves little, if any, conservation purpose.

Ownership of whales is really impossible to establish since these animals migrate over large distances, in and out of international and domestic waters.

I think the IWC is an appropriate framework for conservation of whale stocks. The nations who are members are supposed to cooperate with one another to ensure that the sum of their whaling activities is sustainable. They are supposed to set catch limits based on advice of their scientific committee. For such resources as whales, I think cooperation at the inter-governmental level is the only way to go.

What would happen after these catch limits are set would be commercial whaling ventures from those nations would be allocated a part of the quota. So it certainly wouldn't be the case that whaling companies would set their own catch limits (although in the past politicians caved to pressure from these groups, and ignored scientific advice). It is up to signatories to the convention for the regulation of whaling to enforce the quota laid down by the IWC. Japan has recently established a DNA database with which it will track the origins of whale meat.

7:54 PM  
Blogger jmc said...

Thanks for the insightful comments, and for the scoop about "freelance" journalist Sakuma - I was just calling her that because the article referred to her as that.

Yes, it's certainly a much different situation to establish property rights over a mammal which migrates over such vast distances, as compared to the elephants. I've seen many of the humpback whales in Hawaii, which as I'm sure you know migrate back and forth from Alaska.

I like whales and certainly want to see them conserved. I believe that technology is on our side, and in the future we'll see many whales easily tagged and tracked to the point where very accurate estimates of each species' population can be made at any point in time.

I also believe that in the next couple of decades we'll have the entire ocean mapped out with underwater surveillance devices, making whale counting a rather trivial matter.

9:22 PM  

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