Cetacean Society International
Whales Alive! - Vol. IX No. 3 - July 2000
CITES: A Whale of a Confrontation!
By Kate O'Connell, CSI Board
As readers of Whales Alive! will recall from the last issue, CSI, along with hundreds of other conservation organizations was gearing up for the April CITES meeting in Kenya. Held at the United Nations Environment Programme headquarters in Gigiri, just outside the capital of Nairobi, the CITES meeting proved as contentious and difficult as had been feared, as whaling advocates attempted to remove protection from various species of whales in order to circumvent the IWC moratorium on whaling and to reopen commercial trade in whale products. Norway and Japan had launched a major offensive in the year preceding the CITES meeting, visiting dozens of nations, and attempting to link foreign aid packages to votes in their favor.
For two weeks, delegates and environmental observers debated the merits of various proposals to list some sixty species of plants and animals, but it was clear from the beginning that the marine species - and whales in particular - were destined to dominate the often heated discussions in the various CITES committees. As compared to an average of forty-five minutes of discussions on most species, the whale debate dominated an entire day of proceedings, and much of the "in the hallways" lobbying efforts. As delegates entered the meeting on the day of voting, they were met by Norwegian lobbyists, dressed in traditional costumes, while anti-whaling groups invited delegates to join them at the giant inflatable whale that Greenpeace had set up on the front lawn of the UNEP complex (and that Japan had tried to get removed, along with Greenpeace!).
Pro-whaling interventions were of such a confrontational nature that Willem Wijnstekers, CITES Secretary-General, expressed his fears that the divisive political discussion found in IWC be exported to CITES; he then went on to give technical reasons why the whale delisting proposals from Japan and Norway conflict with past CITES resolutions designed to conserve whales, and recognize IWC efforts.
Japan had introduced several proposals to downlist from Appendix I (no trade) to Appendix II (limited trade) the Eastern North Pacific stock of the Gray Whale (Prop. 11.15), the Southern Hemisphere stock of the Minke Whale (Prop. 11.16), and the Okhotsk Sea-West Pacific stock of the Minke Whale (Prop. 11.17). Fiji, Vanuatu, Sierra Leone, the US, Australia, Brasil, Mexico and the European Union were among several delegations that expressed their support for the International Whaling Commission's primacy, and opposed downlisting any species subject to the IWC moratorium, showing a strong level of international support for the whaling ban. The US made particular note of the gray whale, saying that the Western stock is endangered, and that downlisting the Eastern North Pacific stock, as Japan requested, would further endanger the Western stock as it could encourage trade in gray whale products.
Michael Canny, Chairman of the International Whaling Commission (IWC), stated that a management scheme must be developed before commercial whaling can resume. Australia in particular fielded a strong team, and stressed that no management scheme for whaling has been agreed to by the IWC. CSI members will be pleased to note that Australia and Vanuatu both mentioned the "non-consumptive uses" of whales such as tourism; as readers will know, CSI has been one of the leading proponents of this concept, and has managed to actively engage the IWC in discussions of whale watching as a better "use" of whale resources.
While Japan received support from its fellow whaler, Norway, as well as from Iceland and certain Caribbean nations such as Antigua and Barbuda and Suriname, it was clearly on the defensive, and lashed out at the World Conservation Union (IUCN), whose scientists had presented the CITES delegates with an analysis of the status of global whale stocks, that called into question the numbers that Japan had used in its presentation. In addition to the downlisting proposals, there was additional discussion over just how many species of minke whales (the main target of Japanese scientific whaling) can be found in Antarctic waters, and it was agreed that there are at least two species. This challenged the Japanese contention that there are "more than 700,000 minkes in the Southern Ocean". IUCN stuck to its scientific guns, and stood by the integrity of its population estimates; IUCN analyses have a major impact on the voting of many delegates who rely on their scientific expertise for guidance in determining species listings.
Suriname proposed an amendment to Japan's proposal to transfer the stock to Appendix II maintaining a zero quota until COP-12, assuming that the IWC will have taken a decision on its Revised Management Scheme (RMS) by then and will have set a quota that could be applicable to CITES. Several delegations noted points of order with Suriname's amendment, as the Japanese proposal had been defeated. Some felt consideration of the amendment violated the rules of procedure, and sought clarity on what would happen if the IWC has not made a decision by COP-12.
Norway introduced a proposal to downlist the Northeast Atlantic and the North Atlantic Central stocks of the Minke Whale (Prop. 11.18); their delegate highlighted domestic monitoring mechanisms, including DNA testing. However, as many anti-whaling delegates noted, the IWC has not agreed to an international mechanism or registry of DNA samples that would allow for a transparent and open way to track whale meat and products through markets.
As can be seen by the ballot results, the whaling nations' attempts to overturn the CITES ban on trade in whale products failed dramatically. The Japanese gained no more than 49 votes in support of the various downlisting proposals they had put forth, compared to an average of 66 votes against them; they obviously fell far short of the required 2/3 majority needed to change a species' listing, and didn't even get a simple majority of support. The Norwegians' first attempt also failed, by a vote of 52 in favor and 57 against. On the final day of the CITES meeting, Norway tried to revisit its proposal, and called on the Plenary session to reopen the debate on the Minke Whale (Prop. 11.18); it amended its initial proposal to limit trade to products from animals taken within national jurisdiction with countries where DNA-based identification systems for trade control are implemented.
Several delegations opposed the second Norwegian attempt, noting that downlisting would signal the resumption of commercial whaling, and contradict the decision that CITES had taken on consolidating various resolutions on the relationship between the IWC and CITES. This second proposal also failed by a vote of 53 in favor, 52 against. It should be noted that both the Japanese and Norwegian proposals were voted on by secret ballot, a move that conservation groups and many governments (including the US and the UK) oppose because of a lack of transparency. However, the secret ballot did not help the whalers, and their proposals fared worse than they had done at the last CITES meeting in 1997.
Norway and Japan were also roundly defeated on their proposed resolution on the "RELATIONSHIP WITH THE IWC", which would have withdrawn CITES support for IWC management decisions. Norway called for a secret ballot on this draft resolution, and it was rejected by a wide margin. The US, in the spirit of supporting CITES work, and to not take more time on whaling issues, then withdrew its resolution on the "SYNERGY BETWEEN CITES AND THE IWC", noting that it was clear from the vote on the Norwegian/Japanese proposal that delegates did in fact support the IWC.
In addition to the large whale issues, enviro delegates had expressed concern on the status of the Black Sea bottlenose dolphin; the government of Georgia, with the US as cosponsor had moved to try and list this dolphin on Appendix I. The Black Sea bottlenose has been captured for use in aquaria, and with increasing concerns about the status of the dolphin in the wild, it was hoped that such a listing attempt would draw attention to the plight of this dolphin. While the CITES Conference failed to place the Black Sea bottlenose on Appendix I, it did issue an extremely strong resolution on the subject, calling on member nations to refuse to allow the import or export of these dolphins "without evidence from the CITES Management Authority at the destination that the animals will be received and maintained in proper facilities", as well as calling on all nations in whose waters the dolphins are found to provide updated information on the conservation and trade in the species. This is an important first step that will help in the efforts to get trade in this species banned.
On the whole, cetaceans fared extremely well at CITES. Our thanks to all of our CSI members and friends for their support of the Society's campaign efforts at the meeting. Additional and special thanks to the government of Kenya, whose hospitality and logistic support were matched by the beauty of their country and warmth of its people. Their conservation efforts on elephants are to be applauded, along with the strong opposition to the whale downlisting proposals. As is said in Swahili ... ASANTE SANA!!! (many thanks!!!)
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