Japan’s long-term strategy to see a re-introduction of commercial whale hunting has suffered another rebuff.
Its motion asking the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to review whale stocks was defeated.
Approval for the motion, discussed at the CITES summit in The Hague, could have led to a resumption in a legal trade in whalemeat.
A similar proposal on fin whales by Iceland was also defeated.
The CITES conference follows hard on the heels of the International Whaling Commission annual meeting, which saw Japan suffer reverses on a number of issues.
“It’s a one-two punch for the whales,” said Patrick Ramage, global whale programme manager with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (Ifaw).
“In the space of a week, the two leading institutions charged with protecting wildlife have rejected efforts by Japan to weaken protection for our planet’s great whales.”
Historically, CITES has followed IWC advice on whale stocks. Because the IWC maintains a global moratorium on commercial hunting, international trade in whalemeat is banned.
However, with the IWC mired in deadlock and with no sign of the 21-year moratorium being lifted, Japan has viewed CITES as another route to opening the whale trade.
A CITES assessment that some stocks were robust enough to withstand a degree of international trade would signal they were also robust enough to sustain some commercial hunting.
A number of governments and NGOs supported Japan’s bid to have CITES re-evaluate whale stocks, with Eugene Lapointe of the World Conservation Trust (IWMC) commenting: “CITES has its own rules, its own criteria, and it’s just normal that the listing of species is re-assessed.”
The majority of delegates disagreed, and the resolution was defeated. Japan had offered to fund the re-assessment exercise.
The introduction of the commercial whaling moratorium in 1986 was supposed to be accompanied by an IWC global review of whale stocks. The fact that it is a long way from completion is a major factor behind Japan’s frustration.
But Mark Simmonds of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, who attended the recent IWC scientific committee meeting, defended the long timescale.
“I can assure delegates that the scientific review is indeed comprehensive,” he said.
“But it’s not a simple matter to assess species which spend so much time in the water, sometimes far offshore; and where individuals are often virtually indistinguishable from each other.
“With these factors in mind, it is unreasonable and unfair to suggest that CITES could produce something more thorough than the IWC scientific advice.”
The meeting passed an amendment saying that CITES should not re-assess whale stocks while the commercial moratorium remained in place.