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Commission rejects Greenland plan to increase whaling

International Whaling Commission says requested quota increase aimed at boosting sales of whale meat in tourist restaurants, not at providing sustenance for indigenous peoples

A humpback whale and its calf in NOAA’s Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. Photo courtesy NOAA.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — While the U.S. government arrived at the 64th meeting of the International Whaling Commission announcing an unrelenting commitment to conserve whale populations, animal welfare activists criticized an early vote by the U.S. in favor of increasing Greenland’s quota of whales in the next few years.

At issue is the debate over subsistence whaling, which is seen as critical to sustaining traditional culture among indigenous populations in the Arctic region.

Despite the U.S. vote, the commission rejected the Greenland plan with a large coalition of countries including all EU members (except Denmark) and all Latin American countries voting against the increase.

The United States joined countries that have consistently supported commercial whaling in voting for Greenland’s proposal.

“The American people should be outraged by this radical shift in US policy supporting commercial whaling after decades of strenuous opposition to this cruel slaughter,” said Animal Welfare Institute executive director Susan Millward.

Millward said the increase requested by Greenland is not about subsistence whaling by Greenland’s indigenous people, but more about increasing the commercial sale of whale meat as part of a food-oriented tourism campaign.

“Considering the significant commercial sale of whale meat in Greenland, the US vote for this proposal … undermines the 1986 commercial whaling moratorium,” Millward said.

As the basis for its criticism, the AWI reported that many restaurants in Greenland offer whale meat obtained under the subsistence whaling exemption for sale in restaurants and shops, which appears to circumvent at least the spirit of the commercial whaling moratorium.

The group claims that “native food tourism” is actively promoted by the government and taking hold in the country. Disembarking cruise ship passengers and other tourists are invited to dine on barbequed whale, whale burgers, whale with tagliatelli and tomato sauce, and whale carpaccio. Travel companies also advertise tours that include whale meat served in Greenlanders’ homes, in camps, or at lodges.

Surveys suggest that  whale meat is sold in 77 percent of tourist restaurants in Greenland — information that galvanized opposing countries to reject Greenland’s claim that it needed to expand its subsistence quota.

Whales hunted for subsistence are intended to meet the needs of remote local communities with few other protein options, and not for the entire population of Greenland, mostly living in urban areas, and certainly not for foreign tourists.

“The IWC sets ASW quotas to satisfy genuine nutritional subsistence and cultural needs, not the culinary curiosity of tourists,” said Vanesa Tossenberger, of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society.

“Stopping the quota increase at the IWC is only the start of the battle. Now we have to educate tourists from the U.S., Europe and Latin America to reject whale meat when they see it on restaurant menus,” Millward added.

The IWC includes 89 countries. The U.S. representation includes staff from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the State Department, the  U.S. Marine Mammal Commission, the Department of the Interior and private citizen.

“It’s incredibly challenging at times to come to agreement, but it’s a process that NOAA and our partners are totally dedicated to,” said Doug DeMaster, the U.S. commissioner to the IWC. “I’ve been doing this for 23 years, and we’ve seen everything from countries walking out of difficult discussions to consensus being reached within a single session.”

The U.S. has stated its support for the  moratorium on commercial whaling, while
 Japan, Iceland and Norway continue to whale using legal means that circumvent the spirit and intent of the moratorium. Tensions often peak during discussions at the IWC on this issue and others.
According to a press release from NOAA, this year’s meeting in Panama brings fresh challenges that could either help modernize the Commission or put deeper cracks in an organization that tends to be vehemently divided. To pass amendments to the Convention’s schedule of regulations, three quarters of dues-paying members attending the meeting must agree.

One of the biggest issues driving the discussions this year is subsistence hunting for indigenous communities, including the U.S.’s Alaska Natives and the Makah Tribe.

“Many whale populations have been hunted to near extinction, and some have not yet recovered from industrial whaling,” said Ryan Wulff, U.S. alternate commissioner. “In addition, whales face many other threats today including ship strikes, chemical and noise pollution, entanglement in fishing gear, oil spills and climate change. Our job is to help protect them, and yet to provide for sustainable hunts that meet the needs of our subsistence communities.”

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