Iceland’s bid to rejoin the International Whaling Commission (IWC) without signing up to the moratorium on commercial whaling was rejected today [Monday] following a tense debate.

The 45 member countries voted 25 to 20 in support of the IWC chairman’s ruling that last year’s decision to refuse Iceland’s application with a reservation on the moratorium still stood.

The vote at the IWC’s 54th annual meeting in Shimonoseki, a Japanese whaling port, was a serious set back for the pro whaling nations who fought hard on Iceland’s behalf.

In the UK, however, fisheries minister Elliot Morley said: “Iceland’s application to rejoin the IWC is welcome – but not with a reservation to key decisions that this IWC has taken. If Iceland wants to rejoin the IWC, they have to abide by the IWC’s policies, just like everyone else. It is not acceptable to pick and chose in this way.”

Iceland was a member of the IWC until 1992. It first applied to rejoin the IWC at last year’s annual meeting in Hammersmith, London. The application was rejected by a one-vote majority.

Morley added: “Iceland had an opportunity to make a reservation to the moratorium when it was introduced. They chose not to do so and consequently it seems to us unreasonable that they should now attempt to rejoin with such a reservation.

“If Iceland had been successful in its bid to rejoin the IWC without signing up to the moratorium, it would have undermined the very existence of the IWC – we would have been at the top of a slippery slope.”

Morley added that the fact that the majority vote was greater this year than last did not necessarily mean the annual meeting would be any easier. In order to vote Iceland in, members would have had to vote not to support the IWC chairman and more small countries supporting Japan’s whaling stance had joined.

A resolution for secret ballots, proposed by Japan, was also rejected by the IWC. The UK voted against this resolution on the grounds that votes are taken by members representing their countries and therefore, the procedures should be open and transparent.

Tomorrow, the IWC is expected to discuss proposals for two new whale sanctuaries – one in the South Atlantic, proposed by Brazil and Argentina, and one in the South Pacific, proposed by New Zealand and Australia. The UK will support both proposals.

Japan will be seeking IWC approval for an interim quota of 50 Minke Whales for its small type coastal whaling communities. Although Japan claims that such a quota is needed to alleviate the suffering for these coastal communities caused by the introduction of the moratorium in 1985/6, the IWC has rejected such claims every year for the past 12 years on the basis that this is in effect a commercial quota. The UK will continue to oppose this application.

Morley said: “It is true that the IWC was set up to enable sustainable whaling – but all organisations have to evolve. I do not believe that there is any need for whaling – except for some subsistence whaling by certain remote communities. This is not a debate about culture; it is a debate about conservation and animal welfare. That is why we will work towards a Revised Management Scheme (RMS) but it must be robust with strong measures in place to protect whales from over-exploitation.”

Adopting the RMS would not enable commercial whaling to resume. Any such move would require a separate decision to lift the moratorium. The RMS would only put in place the conditions necessary to regulate and control the industry. Morley said today that despite years of debate, there still wasn’t a proposed scheme in the pipeline that the UK Government could support.

Morley said: “We will continue to try to move forward with this, even though we
strongly oppose a return to commercial whaling – that is part of belonging to the IWC.”

In order for the UK to accept a RMS a number of key criteria would have to be included, such as:

– observers on all whaling vessels;
– DNA sampling and catch documentation to track whale products for management purposes;
– the cost of such schemes should be paid for by whaling countries, and;
– collection of humane killing data.