Cetacean Society International

Whales Alive!

Vol. VI No. 3 July 1997


CITES: A Whale of a Meeting

by Kate O'Connell, CSI Board


The 10th meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) took place in Harare, Zimbabwe from June 9th through the 20th. The meeting, which has had a long history of taking conservation measures to prohibit trade in endangered species, took a dramatic turn to the right, and for the first time, more species were proposed to be "downlisted" or removed from protection than were actually to be placed on the list of trade prohibitions.

Of interest to CSI members was the attempt by Norway and Japan to remove several species of whale from the CITES Appendix 1 listing which prohibits all trade; the whaling nations made moves to downlist minke whales in the North Pacific, the North Atlantic and the Antarctic Oceans, as well as gray whales and Bryde's whales.

The whalers also tried to de-link the actions of CITES from those of the International Whaling Commission (IWC), the only international body recognized for the conservation of whale stocks. In a resolution brought before Committee 2 of CITES, the Japanese and Norwegian governments openly attacked the IWC's moratorium on commercial whaling. The attempt to limit IWC competence and control over whale management failed by a vote of 27 in favor of the Japanese proposal and 51 against, a clear sign that the IWC continues to (rightfully) be the globally recognized management and conservation authority for whales.

The Japanese and Norwegians also practiced some less than democratic approaches to conservation, and called for every one of the votes pertaining to whales to be done by secret ballot. With the assistance of the Japanese cronies from the Caribbean (St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Dominica) and others, the necessary ten supporting votes for a secret ballot were easily reached. The implications of a secret vote are disastrous for those who have been pleased to see conservation fora such as CITES taking an "open" approach; there is no way to know exactly how a country voted, and thus, whether it was prey to influence peddlers from Norway and Japan.

Fortunately for the whales, the secret vote did not work out for the whalers. All of Japan's proposals to downlist failed one after the other, and given their performance, the final stock that had been proposed for downlisting, the Bryde's whale, was withdrawn by the Japanese in defeat. The Norwegian proposal to downlist North Atlantic minke whales also failed, by a vote of 57 in favor, to 51 against, falling far short of the required 2/3 majority needed to overturn the Appendix 1 listing.

While whales did well, there were disturbing signs that all is not well at CITES. Almost all major votes of any contentious nature were done by secret ballot, thus limiting the ability of conservationists to effectively lobby. Further, the "wise use movement", an anti-conservation group that mixes in with the extreme right-wing and with industrial interests, and particularly tied in to Japanese and Norwegian whaling lobbyists, was out in full force, seeking to block the efforts of conservationists to protect and conserve the various species under discussion.

During the meeting, it came to light that yachters cruising through the Atlantic had come upon evidence of possible pirate whaling activities. Japanese whalers continue to hunt in the Antarctic Sanctuary with impunity, and both Japanese and Norwegian whalers were actually whaling during the CITES meeting itself. Whaling is far from over. And even though the battles at CITES were won this time, the wise users, the Japanese and the Norwegians will be back in full force in two years time to try again... and the whales could well go the way of the elephants.


Go to next article: Dolphin-Safe Tuna...where do we go from here? or: Table of Contents.

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