The Cucumber Conversion Rate.
After a non-lunch many frazzled European Commissioners return to the meeting room to hear the report of the Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling Sub-Committee read by its Chair, the distinguished Portuguese Commissioner, Jorge Palmerium.
Austria picks up on a matter raised by Mexico yesterday concerning the difficulties involved in resolving estimates for Antarctic minke whales. (Mexico asked yesterday what it meant for other population assessments that the most detailed probe of the Antarctic populations yielded so many difficulties.) The Austrian alternate commissioner and scientist Professor Michael Stachowitsch, suggests that we all need to be more ‘humble and more cautious’ when we approach scientific matters and notes that things that we thought might be true are not necessarily as true as we may think. [Or something very like that.]
Russia comments on ‘Stinky Whales’ and asks the scientific committee to provide a definition of the same stinky whales. [These are the highly olfactory whales which cannot be consumed, although there is no known reason for the ‘stinkiness’.]
The US asks the Science Head or Science Chair to say something on stinkyness. Greg Donovan says mildly that we have a reliable abundance estimate the situation is not worrying; all is well.
We move to the agenda item dealing with the aboriginal subsistence whaling limits (starting with the Bering-Chukchi-Beaufort Sea Stock of bowhead whales).
After this section of the report the US asks for Harry Brower of the US Alaskan Eskimo Whaling Commission to speak. He describes the recent whale hunting activity, which is slightly less than in the previous year. He notes very poor ice conditions this year which made the hunt dangerous and difficult and that a calf was taken by accident.
We move to agenda 5.2: ‘catch limits for N Pacific Eastern stock of gray whales’. After this report, Mexico notes that they are helping to monitor this stock.
Russia adds that this year there were ten stinky whales taken. Stinkiness will continue to be investigated by a joint US-Russian team intersessionally.
We move to common minke whale stocks off Greenland.
A list of the whales being killed is given. In west Greenland 200 minkes are allowed to be taken annually. This year however, the Scientific Committee has been able to give strong advice (for the first time) that an annual strike limit of 178 is advised.
Denmark then takes the floor he comments that there are few horses in Greenland, so we do not understand the concept of ‘horse trading’ [the context was lost on the scribe, sorry]. Denmark then passes the microphone to Greenland who then presents a power point in support of its new request for humpback whales.
[The larva begins to bubble in the magma chamber. Is that molten rock seeping up through the carpet?]
There is a minute of near silence as things are set up [we cannot see, it may be that the microphone is not working] static fills the air. Many delegates can be heard hammering away on their computers.
The power point shows a variety of images of hunting in Greenland, including an image from the bowhead hunt which has just been initiated. And Greenland reads from the white paper (IWC 61/12) that was released to the Commission shortly after almost everyone has left yesterday afternoon. The last image is of a child looking out from the screen flanked by lines of drying whale meat.
She notes that GL has just had its special national day and celebrated with whale meat.
They seek consensus on their proposal. The Greenland paper stresses the relationship between traditional foods and people. She notes that traditional foods are shared around GL but not exported, except to people in Denmark as gifts.
(Whilst she speaks, many delegates are wondering around and preparing speaking points. The EU may be attempting to ‘co-ordinate’ – we cannot be sure.)
Greenland adds that the distinction between commercial and aboriginal whaling is artificial. She also mentions attempts at ‘neocolonial control’ under the cover of protecting endangered species. We all agree they should be protected the question is how should it be done. Can GL whaling be considered commercialization of hunting says the title of one power point slide. No says Greenland.
She goes on to describe how flensing is conducted on the shore and the problems presented by the tides. Then she speaks about the conversion factors (i.e. how much tonnage of meat and other products represents how many whales). This approach she says has always been part of their multi-species fishery.
She promises that Greenland will work to improve data where she can. They have a ‘documented and recognized minimum need of meat from large whales of 670 tonnes’. This need she adds has never been met.
The presentation is completed. Denmark notes that he does not ask for a vote now, he wants people to think about this matter.
The saints come marching in.
Many speakers now line up to comment on Greenland’s proposal. Several small island nations wave their flags with enthusiasm.
St Lucia has been doing some maths. They suggest that GL has reduced its hunt in fact and reiterate that point that, to date, Greenland have been unable to meet the needs of their people. We should allow them the tonnage they request.
St Lucia then refers to a discussion that she was having last night and introduces us to the cucumber conversion factor. I was told, she says, that one cucumber costs about 8 US$ in Greenland. (In St Lucia they get about 8 cucumbers for this.) She concludes that she hopes this matter will not go to a vote.
St Vincent and the Grenadines support science. They are a small country involved themselves in an aboriginal hunt and they share the pain of the people. He gives some geographic details from the GL paper, noting how scattered and small communities are. If you don’t live in an environment, you don’t understand it he says and then he starts to speak of injustices and pools of larva can be seen glistening around the room. The denial of ten whales will be a great injustice. He thinks that any references to tonnage is a red herring.
St Kitts and Nevis asks GL to replace that last frame from the power point presentation on the screen.
[There is a pause as the visual aids technicians snap awake and after some static the image of the child and the whale meat reappears.]
If he was our child, our little boy, for his food security… how can we come back to him and say that a group of persons have ignored science… how do we define rationale use. Are we do say that this little boy should never ne given the opportunity… it cannot be right for the children in Antigua, St Kitts and Nevis, the US, Australia or the kids anywhere.
Cambodia thanks hosts and chairman for wise leadership. They support the proposal.
Japan in a sad voice talks about science; he carefully notes that GL proposes to reduce the number of minke whales killed following the advice of the Scientific Committee. This is very honourable he says. Now they propose ten humpback whales. He asks why killing some species is different to others. Iceland he notes and refers to the old commissioner has previously said that we cannot work towards the ‘survival of the cutest’; the jumping animals being cuter than the swimming.
The alternate commissioner continues with the advice that last year’s decision was a mistake. They have made a better proposal now supported by better advice. We have just adopted a way forward he adds and then [somewhat ominously] a decision against this hunt might even kill this agreement. Be consistent and do not make the same mistake as last year.
Korea supports GL.
Norway finds the request scientific and fully justified. He calls for consensus.
Costa Rica calls for more clarity on needs and notes that humpbacks belong to many others within their range.
Other speakers stand up to take sides – notably many small developing nations express sympathy and support with GL. The EU says nothing (are they co-ordinating?).
It is 16.2O where is the coffee break?
Ah there it is. Quick, quick…
[In the old coffee area in the top of the Casino building EU countries are trying to get their act together happily co-coordinating away. Will they manage to find some words or are they totally handicapped by their bureaucracy?]
Tea and coffee complete with small cakes and even some fruit are now served in the breaks on the curvy bridge that links the curvy hotel to the casino/volcano building. Here in the shade of the amazing kapok tree (or Tree-of-Sidney’s beard) small tables and stands have been erected. By the time the scribe extricates himself from the many wires and ear phones extended around his person and gets outside, revenging hoards of NGOs and whalers have eaten almost everything. (At least the scribe is not covered in ear-phone soot today.)
After the break the Chairman moves rapidly to consider the RMS (the IWC’s Revised Management Scheme). The redoubtable Arne Bjorge talks about the relevant report of the Scientific Committee. There are no comments, no one is very interested these days.
The EU appears to still be trying to coordinate and commissioners are running around the room but they appear to have missed their chance.
We move rapidly through the report where it deals with Western North Pacific Bryde’s whales and North Atlantic Fin whales (a variety of stock structures are identified). Then we gallop through the Scientific Committee’s consideration of North Atlantic minke whales.
There are no comments on all of this. Commissioners are obviously exhausted. Some from speaking and some from attempting to coordinate.
Arne Bjorge now takes us through the Scientific Committee report with respect to ‘bycatch and other human-induced mortality’.
The Chair thanks the Chair for his comments.
And we move on to Socio-economic implications.
It is hot again back in the dark chamber in the heart of the volcano. The alternate commissioner for Japan opens the topic by noting that because Small Type Coastal Whaling is part of the IWC’s ongoing negotiation, they [Japan] have no proposal under this agenda item.
He hands the microphone to a spokesman from the Japanese coastal town of Taiji, where he is the head of the committee that opposed the total ban on whaling by the IWC. He has attended the last five meeting where he has learnt much and he stresses that whales are a blessing to his community and that whaling is conducted there in a different way to anywhere else in the world. He speaks of a time when a right whale came close to shore and people were starving. Night was approaching and a life and death struggle followed. When the whale was lashed onto the boat a storm struck and lives were lost. A handful – only five survived – 116 perished that night, there was much misery in Taiji.
On a particular day in Taiji they still lay flowers, and whales have been part of the food culture for ordinary people for a long time. Whales are alive in songs and art making a rich and diverse culture… it is more and more critical to embrace sustainable use of marine resources. … there is an imminent world wide food shortage coming and we need to address this, whales can help. Japan is the only nation that can conduct the appropriate research programme.
He gets louder and louder until his final thank you booms across the room.
Korea (who matches the loudness) now speaks. The Commissioner states that here must be a balance between conservation and sustainable use of resources. He introduces us to an old friend – the major of Ulsan, the south Korean city where the IWC met a few years back. He reminds us of the nice petroglyths (ancient rock paintings) of whaling there and with the aid of a nice power point talks about whaling in his region. Ulsan appreciates its whale meat dietary traditions and for Ulsan it is culturally important. He concludes that they will do their best to protect endangered whales but wishes to enter into sustainable use of whales in order to protect their culture.
He looks forward to our support and encouragement for sustainable use of whale fisheries.
Korea concludes that the future of the IWC is the most important issue to be solved this time. Each and ever member of the Commission needs to understand the traditional whale meat culture.
Let’s all consult with each other and work in an atmosphere of consensus says the chair and who are the NGO speakers for tomorrow. Who indeed! And we close for the day.
Paul Watson the famous TV personality and leader of the Sea Shepherd organization is found in the middle of the afternoon sitting alone and bored in the foyer of the Pestana Casino Hotel. (It is rumored that he was arrested and released earlier. The security forces must have been delighted to have something to do.)
Around the hotel and in the streets beyond many tourists wonder, quietly getting redder (if British) or gently tanned (if from other nations). The chairman is hosting commissioners only dinner this evening. Presumably the EU countries will be spending most of this trying to co-ordinate something (anything) to say and many countries will be talking fiercely to many other countries about cucumbers and food security.
[Please note that this report of the meeting does not claim to be verbatim. What we try to do here is capture the essence of what was said. We welcome corrections if we have got anything wrong. We also welcome someone holding onto some food for us from the cornucopia on the bridge before everyone else makes off with it please.]