Cetacean Society International

Whales Alive! - Vol. XVI No. 3 - July 2007


A Wild Meeting: CITES Maintains The Ban On Trade
In Whale Products, But Not Without A Fight

By Kate O'Connell


The focus of the meeting couldn't have been more apt; host country the Netherlands had chosen the phrase "Call of the Wild" as the theme for the 14th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, known by the acronym CITES. The meeting was held in the Hague, and came right on the heels of the IWC meeting.

Fresh from the battle over whaling, many IWC participants traveled to the Netherlands in time for the opening ceremonies on June 3rd. Delegates from the 172 countries that make up the CITES membership, along with hundreds of representatives from both pro-use and conservation non-governmental organizations attended the COP, and whales figured prominently on the agenda. The COP meeting is broken down into various committees in order to facilitate discussion; votes are taken within the committees, and the outcome is then forwarded to a final decision by the full membership.

IWC Chairman, Dr. William Hogarth, although unable to attend the COP, had forwarded a statement to the CITES meeting, in which he referenced the recent IWC meeting, and pointed to the moratorium on commercial whaling. Dr. Hogarth mentioned the current impasse over discussions on a Revised Management Scheme (RMS), but then said that the whaling commission had agreed to hold an inter-sessional meeting to discuss the future of the IWC. Hogarth went on to say, "It is my hope as IWC Chair that the RMS will be a part of the discussion at the inter-sessional meeting." The letter closed with a request to CITES to coordinate with the management measures taken by IWC.

On Wednesday, the 6th of June, Japan submitted a resolution in Committee 1 proposing that CITES undertake a scientific review of cetacean species listed on its Appendices. All species of great whales (with the exception of the West Greenland stock of minke whale) have been placed on Appendix 1 of CITES, a listing which prohibits international trade. The Japanese proposal was clearly an attempt to do an end run around the IWC, the Scientific Committee and the commercial whaling ban. If adopted, the resolution would have been an initial step towards resuming trade in whale products. China, Norway and St. Kitts spoke in support of the aims of the proposal.

Fortunately, opposition to the Japanese resolution was strong. Australia spoke to the work of the IWC on the status of whale stocks, and underscored the fact that IWC is the internationally recognized authority on whales. Argentina, speaking on behalf of many Latin American parties, said that Japan's proposal would duplicate the work of the IWC's Scientific Committee, while the European Union introduced the text of the IWC resolution on the interaction between CITES and the IWC that had been adopted only the previous week. And in an intervention sure to resonate strongly with CSI's position on whale watching, the Brasilian delegate to CITES spoke to the benefits of whale watching and the non-lethal use of whales.

After much debate, the Japanese proposal was rejected by the Committee, by 26 votes in favor to 54 against. Also in Committee 1, Argentina, Australia, Brasil and the US opposed an Animals' Committee proposal to include the central stock of the North Atlantic fin whale in the CITES periodic review process; this proposal had originated with Iceland, which had resumed commercial hunting for fin whales in October of 2006.

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This is what a finback evading a whaler at full speed might
look like. How can this 45 tons of power and grace at
21 knots just be meat to some people?

Australia then took a decidedly pro-active stand against the whalers' continual efforts to get CITES to overturn the IWC whaling ban by introducing a proposed Decision of the Parties (CITES document COP14Com.1.7) which stated that no periodic review of any great whale species should occur as long as the IWC moratorium remains in place. Committee 1 overwhelmingly approved the proposal by a vote of 59 in favor, with 21 against.

Although the outcomes of the Committee 1 decisions were positive for whales, the final assurance that the whaling nations would not succeed in undermining the CITES ban on trade in whale products had to wait until literally the final hours of the meeting. On the penultimate day of the conference, the plenary voted to support the committee's decision to reject Japan's proposed resolution on the scientific review of whale species, and also adopted the Australian decision proposed in document14.Com1.7.

And it was at this point on the 14th that the situation began to get a little more "wild". Palau noted its intention to try and revisit the results of the meeting having to do with whales. Palau, it should be noted, is also a member of the IWC, and its Commissioner, Kuniwo Nakamura, chaired the Tokyo-hosted meeting on the "Normalization of the IWC" (see Whales Alive! Vol. XVI No. 2). On the 15th of June, the final day of the COP, Palau introduced a proposal to reopen Iceland's proposal for a periodic scientific review for fin whales. Although the proposal was narrowly defeated in a vote, pro-whaling countries raised a point of order saying that the vote should have been held as a secret ballot, and contesting the outcome.

The discussion on this subject became so heated that the session had to be adjourned, and a special meeting of what is known as "the Bureau" convened. The Bureau oversees enforcement of the COP rules of procedure and "forwarding the business of the meeting". The Chairs and Vice Chairs of the COP, along with the Committee Chairs and the CITES Secretariat are members of the Bureau. It was not until 2:15 pm on the closing day of the meeting that the plenary session was able to resume. At that point, the validity of the earlier vote against Palau's proposal on fin whales was upheld, and the gavel finally came down on the 14th COP's discussions on whales.

Despite intense debate and finagling, as well as last-minute attempts to circumvent procedure, the pro-whaling countries went down to a resounding loss. Not only were their proposals defeated, but a decision of the Parties put forth by Australia was accepted, meaning that no CITES review of whale stocks will take place so long as the IWC's whaling ban remains in effect. A wild two weeks in the Hague, but well worth it for the whales.


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