One of the many positive resolutions passed at this year's IWC meeting (see article, page 1) was one concerning the International Whaling Commission's relationship with CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna. In the resolution - passed by one of the strongest vote margins in recent years - the IWC welcomed the results of the last CITES meeting (see Whales Alive! Vol. VI No. 3, July 1997), in which an attempt by the Japanese government to overturn the historical arrangement that has existed between the two treaties was defeated: although CITES regulates international trade in endangered plants and animals, it has chosen to defer to the IWC on matters relating to whales.
It is clear that trade in whale meat continues to be a problem for whale conservation. In spite of the commercial whaling moratorium, whale meat continues to be sold in large quantities in Japanese fish markets. The commercial gain from the sale of whale meat is enormous; according to information from the Japanese Cetacean Research Institute, sales from the meat of the Japanese Antarctic hunt (in which more than 2500 whales have been killed since its inception) alone generated income of some 3.5 billion yen in the 1996/97 season.
Further, the sale of meat from the Japanese "scientific research" hunts in the Antarctic and North Pacific - in which only minke whales are supposedly targeted - has served as a blind for the sale of other species. Studies underwritten by various environmental organizations over the past few years - among them Earthtrust and IFAW - have continually found the presence of species other than minke whales for sale in Japanese fish markets...including humpback whale meat.
In addition, there have been attempts by Norwegian whaling interests to smuggle whale meat out of Norway and into the lucrative Japanese market. Norwegian law prohibits the export of whale meat; however, Norwegian internal consumption of whale meat cannot even come close to using up the products of the commercial hunt for minkes in the North Atlantic.
Norwegian press reports have indicated that stockpiles of hundreds of tons of frozen whale meat and blubber sit in warehouses in Northern Norway. This year the government announced plans to try and develop alternative uses for whale products (such as oil and pet food) in an attempt to keep the industry alive.
One of the more bizarre twists in whale trade lore in recent years occurred only one day after the start of the 1998 Norwegian whaling season. According to reports by Reuters and Fish Information Services, it was discovered that dried "whale beef" slices were being sold in a duty free shop in the Oslo international Airport...at US$60 a kilo! This runs both contrary to Norwegian national law and to the fact that most customers who might have bought the meat would be entering countries bound by the CITES ban on trade in whale meat.
At press time, it is still unclear which country will host the next CITES meeting in late 1999 or early 2000, as the original host, Indonesia, chose to bow out given the severe economic problems the country is currently facing. What is clear, however, is that the whaling nations will once again attempt to dismantle the international ban on trade in whale products.
Fortunately, the IWC has now made its position very clear on the issue: CITES should continue to support the IWC's purview over whales. Any change at CITES that opened the door to international trade in whale products would have disastrous consequences for whale populations worldwide. If so much cheating is going on while a full ban on commercial whaling and trade is in place, imagine what might happen if the floodgates to trade were opened. CSI urges all members and readers to voice their opinion to the government representatives that international trade in whale meat must never be allowed.
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