IWC-66 Adopts Resolutions on its Effectiveness, the Vaquita and Ecosystem Function
Photo by IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth
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At the sixty-sixth meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC-66) participants addressed proposals for a South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary; aboriginal subsistence whaling; socio-economic implications and small-type whaling; cetacean status and health; unintended anthropogenic impacts; whale killing methods and welfare issues; budget; and the IWC in the future.

Resolutions considered: enhancing the effectiveness of the IWC; improving the review process for whaling under special permit; cetaceans and ecosystem functioning; a fund to strengthen government capacity for participation; food security; and the critically endangered vaquita.

All resolutions, except the one on food security, were adopted.

The proposal on the South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary was rejected.

28 October 2016: The sixty-sixth meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC-66) addressed a range of proposals and resolutions on aboriginal subsistence whaling, a whale sanctuary, whales and food security and the critically endangered vaquita. For the first time, IWC-66: tackled cooperation with other organizations as a separate agenda item; directly addressed small cetaceans, with documents adopted on their conservation; initiated a process to review its own effectiveness; discussed human rights in the context of Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling; and permitted NGOs to attend and speak at informal drafting meetings.

IWC-66 convened from 24-28 October 2016, in Portorož, Slovenia. Meetings of the Committees, Sub-Committees and Working Groups on Science, Conservation, Finance and Administration, Budget, Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling, Infractions, and Whale Killing Methods and Welfare Issues preceded the Commission meeting. Approximately 400 participants attended the meeting, representing member and non-member governments, academia, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, indigenous groups and the media.

For the first time, IWC-66: tackled cooperation with other organizations as a separate agenda item; directly addressed small cetaceans, with documents adopted on their conservation; initiated a process to review its own effectiveness; discussed human rights in the context of Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling; and permitted NGOs to attend and speak at informal drafting meetings.

Similar to previous Commission meetings, participants expressed strongly opposing views throughout the meeting. The fundamental disagreement on whether whales can be used sustainably or merit total protection resurfaced under most agenda items. As a result, many decisions were taken by vote rather than consensus. The meeting featured several positive developments, both substantively and in the meeting’s operations. Participants made major progress on bycatch and entanglement and on improving the IWC’s effectiveness. Many stressed that the meeting was conducted in an optimistic and cordial manner, with the levels of trust and cooperation remarkably higher than in past years.

Overall, the meeting addressed proposals for a South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary; aboriginal subsistence whaling; socio-economic implications and small-type whaling; cetacean status and health; unintended anthropogenic impacts; whale killing methods and welfare issues; the Commission budget for 2017-2018; and the IWC in the future. Resolutions were considered on: enhancing the effectiveness of the IWC; improving the review process for whaling under special permit; cetaceans and ecosystem function; the creation of a fund to strengthen the capacity of governments of limited means to participate in the work of the IWC; food security; and the critically endangered vaquita. All resolutions, except the one on food security, were adopted. The proposal on the South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary was rejected, with 38 members voting in favor, 24 opposing and 2 abstaining.

On the vaquita, the US introduced its draft resolution on the critically endangered species, pleading for urgent action to prevent the second cetacean extinction within a decade. In the resolution, the IWC: expresses deep concern that the vaquita numbers less than 59 animals and is facing imminent extinction; affirms that only a permanent, complete, and effective gillnet ban in all fisheries operating in the Upper Gulf of California will prevent its extinction; and urges all contracting governments to strengthen enforcement actions to eliminate the illegal international trade in totoaba swim bladders; and to support Mexico’s efforts to prevent the extinction of the vaquita by assisting in providing financial resources as well as technical and socioeconomic expertise.

The US explained that the use of gillnets for the illegal international trade of totoaba swim bladders has added to the decline of the vaquita population. Argentina, supported by Austria, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic and Switzerland, said the IWC would lose credibility if it allows the vaquita to become extinct like the baiji dolphin. St. Vincent and the Grenadines argued that the IWC should not deal with small cetaceans. Antigua and Barbuda, Ghana, Guinea, Japan, the Russian Federation, St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines noted that while they would not block consensus, they would decline to participate in the process.

In the resolution on cetaceans and ecosystem functioning, the IWC, inter alia: acknowledges increasing scientific data suggesting that whales enhance nutrient availability for primary production; recognizes the need to include consideration of the contributions made by live cetaceans and carcasses present in the ocean to marine ecosystem functioning in conservation, management strategies and decision making; encourages contracting governments to work constructively towards integrating considerations related to the role played by live cetaceans in regulating and supporting ecosystem functioning, in future decisions, agreements and resolutions; and resolves to review the ecological, management, environmental, social and economic aspects related to the contributions of cetaceans to ecosystem functioning to people and natural systems.

On enhancing the its effectiveness, the IWC, inter alia: agrees to a comprehensive, independent review of the Commission’s institutional and governance arrangements; agrees that the review panel will submit a report to the Executive Secretary for discussion at IWC-67; and requests that this Working Group submit a proposal to guide the Commission’s response to the panel’s recommendations at least 60 days in advance of IWC-67.

On food security, Ghana explained the draft resolution aims to integrate food and nutritional security concerns in the IWC’s decision-making process. Noting the existence of 870 million food-insecure people worldwide, he said marine genetic resources, including cetaceans, can help alleviate hunger in developing countries. Guinea added that any policy aiming at the absolute protection of whales without a scientific basis will have a devastating impact on small pelagic fish and consequently on food security. Côte d’Ivoire underscored the fragile state of many African countries, noting that any environmental or economic disruption has a stronger impact on them compared to developed countries. Antigua and Barbuda, Cameroon, Iceland, Japan, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Togo supported the proposal. Australia, Costa Rica, the EU, Gabon, India, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa and the US either opposed the proposal or requested substantive revision of the draft resolution. The US underscored the importance of food security, but noted, supported by Australia, that it is relevant to the IWC’s work only in the context of aboriginal whaling. The draft resolution was not put to a vote. Ghana announced that work on the draft text will continue intersessionally. [IISD RS Coverage of IWC-66] [IWC Press Release on IWC-66 Conclusion] [IWC Press Release on Resolutions] [IWC Press Release on IWC Meeting]


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