Iceland bid threatens whaling commission



Posted on 23 July 2001  | 
London, UK - As the 53rd meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) opens today in London, WWF, the conservation organization, is warning that Iceland's attempt to rejoin the IWC while maintaining a reservation on the long-standing moratorium on commercial whaling threatens the survival of the Commission.

No state has ever previously attempted to join the IWC while announcing that they would not be bound by all its previous decisions.

WWF believes that if Iceland's move is accepted it will set a precedent that would prevent the IWC ever again being able to make binding decisions. Any member state could then leave the IWC and then rejoin with a reservation on any aspect of the management of whaling, such as whaling catch limits, management procedures, inspection regulations, or whale sanctuaries.

With its decisions no longer viewed as binding, the IWC would lose all authority. "Iceland joining the IWC with a reservation on a previous IWC decision is a poison pill that would fatally undermine the Commission," said Cassandra Phillips, Senior Policy Adviser, Whales and Antarctica for WWF. "This bid by Iceland would make it impossible for the IWC to adopt any binding regulations. Norway and Japan, both whaling countries that have long said that they want to finalize a new whaling management plan must now either persuade Iceland to change its strategy or vote against its bid to rejoin."

The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea recognises migratory whales as species of global conservation concern calling for international regulation of their use.

The destruction of the IWC would remove such regulation and have devastating consequences for future management of whaling and the world's whale stocks.

Without the IWC there could be a whaling free-for-all as there would be no agreed world-wide policy on catch limits, supervision, or control of whaling operations.

Iceland was previously a member of the IWC but left in 1992. It has now announced that it is rejoining but with a "reservation" on the 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling.

Formerly a whaling nation hunting fin, sei and Northern minke whales, Iceland still has a whaling land station and whaling ships kept ready for use.

The former whalers are hopeful that whaling will again be authorised by the Icelandic Government. There is only a small domestic market for whalemeat so the whalers want to export the meat and blubber to Japan where prices are at least four times higher.

However Iceland has one of the fastest growing and most successful whale-watching industries anywhere in the world.

Numbers grew from just 100 passengers in 1991 to 35,250 in 1999 and 44,000 in 2000. The foreign tourists who visit Iceland to go whale-watching are overwhelmingly opposed to whaling and would be unlikely to visit Iceland again if whaling were resumed.

Recent analysis suggests that the value to the Icelandic economy of whale-watching, around US$10 million, already exceeds the potential proceeds from resuming whaling.

''It's up to Iceland to choose between supporting the IWC or destroying it,'' Mrs Phillips added.

For further information:

Cassandra Phillips, Senior Policy Adviser, WWF International, Whales and Antarctica. Tel: +44 20 8741 1555, mobile: +44 7785 920 617 Email: cphillips@wwfint.org
Kyla Evans, Head of Press, WWF International, Tel: +41 22 364 9550. E-mail: kevans@wwfint.org

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