Bequia fishermen get greenlight for whale hunt

ANCHORAGE, Alaska, May 30, 2007 – The subsistence whaling quota for St Vincent and the Grenadines has been renewed for another five years by the International Whaling Commission (IWC).

Fishermen in Bequia will be allowed to hunt no more than 20 Humpback whales  between 2008-2012.

In a statement issued at the start of the meeting Dominica, St Lucia, Grenada, St Vincent and the Grenadines, St Kitts and Nevis and Antigua and Barbuda expressed support for the rights of all coastal and indigenous peoples to maintain their cultures and long standing traditions which are consistent with the attainment of food security and poverty alleviation.

The vote was a consensus one, as expected. Subsistence whaling had been recognised by the IWC from its inception in the 1940s and this vote, which was a formality, also agreed to renewal of quotas for all other indigenous whaling populations. The Eskimos and Chukotka of Alaska have been permitted to catch a total of 280 Bowhead whales over the next 5 years with a maximum of 67 per year and up to 15 unused strikes carried over to the next year. For the indigenous populations in the Russian Federation a total catch of 620 Earth North Pacific gray whales is allowed with a maximum of 140 in any one year.

The IWC however deferred a request from Greenland for an increase in its quota from 175 to 200 minke whales and its fin whale hunt from a voluntary cap of 10 to 19 per year. It also wanted to add 10 humpbacks per year and two bowhead whales, neither of which have been hunted in Greenland for decades.

The pro-whaling Japan supported the USA quota renewal for Alaska’s indigenous coastal populations but argued that its own indigenous coastal people should also be allowed hunt whales.

The IWC was formed in 1946 to ensure the proper conservation of whale stocks and the “orderly development” of the whaling industry against the background that  many stocks or populations of the 13 species of “great whales” had been over-exploited and might well be heading to unsustainable levels, causing them to become extinct. A management plan was adopted in 1975 but because of the uncertainty of the science at the time, the IWC adopted a moratorium on commercial whaling in 1982 which remains in force today.

The annual IWC meetings since then have been a contentious hotbed of controversy and rivalry between pro-whaling and anti-whaling nations and interest groups. Some have considered that the whale conservation science is child’s play compared to the complex politics and lobbying among the members of the IWC.

A Revised Management Procedure adopted in 1994/95 has not been implemented because of strategic maneuverings among the politically-charged membership.

Japan which leads the pro-whaling fight has enlisted the assistance of Caribbean nations in the OECS to vote on its side for implementation of that plan and resumption of whaling. In exchange for the vote, these countries benefit from overseas development aid, particularly in the building of fisheries complexes all across the sub-regional Caribbean group of nations.

The country in the most precarious position is Dominica. Regarded as the Nature Isle of the Caribbean it has stood solidly behind Japan, unquestioningly voting for the resumption of commercial whaling. However it is now also building a growing eco-tourism business in whale watching. One whale is said to be worth US$1 million in eco-tourism revenue.

The meeting ends May 31.