The Skies Darken for Humpback Whales.
We start the day with a long bilateral going on at the front of the room between the Chairman of the Commission and the Alternate Commissioner for Japan, whilst elsewhere commissioners lock horns over the message from Greenland that arrived last night. (The US and UK Commissioner appear to be in debate.) In the background, Bob Dylan is singing incongruously and loudly.
Indeed, the Portuguese reception last night held in the battlements of the ‘Fort Of Contemporary Art’ on the Funchal seafront was blighted by the news coming from Greenland. It was a lovely evening, cool and provided with nice food, much drink and traditional dancing, but then the news started to permeate around delegations that Greenland at the last minute has asked, as predicted, to add humpback whales to its hunt.
We had all been waiting to hear something about this matter for a whole year. Greenland asked for a new humpback hunt last year for the first time and after a long hard debate, were turned down in a vote by the Commission. The European Union Block was important in this and the refusal was linked to the new knowledge that the ‘aboriginal hunt’ in Greenland was highly commercialized following a report from WSPA, detailing whale meat extensively in commerce including distribution via for-profit wholesalers and supermarkets. The IWC Scientific Committee had previously said that a humpback take in the Northeast Atlantic was sustainable and for many that advice alone was enough, but an aboriginal take is about more than this!
Anyway, here we are one year on and after months of internal negotiations within the EU, we suddenly see a new paper from Greenland (via Denmark): paper IWC/61/12. This paper was delivered just a few minutes short of the deadline. It was not viewed by the Aboriginal Subsistence Working Group last week (the technical body that should have looked at it). It asks for a take of ten humpback whales for each of the next three years.
Many countries (we believe including the entire Latin American block) are waiting to see how the EU responds to this request. Logically, as it adds no new information that we can see, the EU and others should turn it down again.
However amongst the drinks and snacks last night it became apparent that the EU (which needs to act as a single voting block on this matter) is in considerable disarray. Some countries, including the UK (which has already made its position abundantly clear) and Germany continue to oppose the opening of this new hunt. Others – obviously including Denmark (which must put the proposal for its Greenlandic Kingdom), but also we believe Sweden, strongly support the quota increase.
Then there is more confusion because no one here seems to know quite how the EU copes in a situation where there is disagreement between its 24 members represented here. Some are advocating that they must abstain if they cannot find consensus. If they have to vote internally to resolve which way to vote in the IWC meeting, how does this happen? Is it perhaps by weighted votes (the larger countries have more votes than the smaller ones)? We calculate from what we understand of the inlclinations of the European countries that such a vote would be close and that Italy’s vote may prove critical.
If the EU now votes for the humpback quota it will reverse its decision of last year even though no new information comes from Greenland to substantiate their claimed increase in need for whale meat. Furthermore, considerable questions have arisen since last year on the scientific foundation of its existing quota, which is based on an unsubstantiated series of ‘conversion factors’.
The pages of writing from Greenland (including 3 pages of references) have not been through the correct procedures here – neither seen by the Scientific Committee nor the Ab Sub working group). If the EU abstains, other countries may follow, meaning that the EU carries the lives of 30 humpbacks on its shoulders
We feared that the advent of EU co-ordination at the IWC could cause a disaster here. Is this going to be the first one? Do the people of Europe want the humpbacks in their waters to end up in supermarkets?
The Skies Darken for Humpback Whales.