Caribbean Under Fire for Pro-Whaling Stance

In anticipation of this week’s meeting of the International Whaling Commission in Morocco, Peter Richards  discusses how the votes of six Caribbean countries could help decide whether or not IWC will ease the 1986 global ban on commercial whaling and allow hunting in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary around Antarctica. Here is his report:
Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Grenada, all members of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), also belong to the IWC, which was set up in 1964 to provide for the conservation of whale stocks.
A proposal to allow a limited number of legal whale catches will be put forward during the IWC’s Jun. 21-25 meeting in Morocco. Environmentalists and others opposed to lifting the ban are calling on Caribbean governments not to give in to countries like Japan that have used their financial muscle in the past to gain support in the 88-member IWC. Former Commonwealth secretary general Sir Shridath Ramphal called the decision by the OECS to lend its support to Japan a travesty. “It’s a great sadness to me that some of our smaller countries…a significant number to make a difference in the world’s Whaling Commission, are in fact joining with them (Japan) in perpetuating the slaughter, and in the end the extinction of these mammals,” he said. “The Japanese make no bones about it; they are using chequebook diplomacy. They are buying our votes and we fool ourselves (into thinking) that we are part of the tradition of whaling…what we are doing is making ourselves part of their extinction,” he told delegates attending an international environmental conference last month in Grenada.
Between 1986 and 1995, Grenada received more than 15 million dollars in grant aid from Japan. This year, the government expects five million dollars in assistance for the development of a coastal fisheries project in the western town of Gouyave. The situation is similar in other OECS countries where Japanese funds have financed various fisheries projects. Earlier this week, a British newspaper reported that officials from a number of Pacific nations, as well as St. Kitts and Nevis and Grenada, had openly offered to sell their votes at the IWC to undercover reporters.
Former Caribbean diplomat Sir Ronald Sanders, who is also calling on regional countries not to support Japan, said whales are worth more to the region alive than dead. “A dead whale is no good to the Caribbean; we need live whales…because we’ve got a burgeoning whale watching industry, particularly in the Eastern Caribbean countries that is an essential and growing part of their tourism product,” he said.
Environmentalist Dr. Fitzroy Armour, who pioneered whale watching in the Eastern Caribbean, said he is worried about the negative impact a reversal of the global ban could have on the Caribbean tourism industry. The proposal also calls for continuing whaling by Iceland and Norway in violation of long-agreed scientific procedures and the global whaling ban. Armour recalls that a few decades ago, Grenada approved a permit to Norway to hunt sperm whales in its waters. In one season, all the whales were wiped out, he said, “and this was with primitive equipment. What do you think will happen when today’s whaling ships are equipped with sophisticated equipment?”  
“To date, the sperm whale is yet to make a rebound and is presently on the endangered species list,” he said, warning that “killing the ocean whales will not only destroy them but will add insult to the ongoing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which is an important ground for the North Atlantic fishes.” He said Japan has shipping fleets in the Caribbean that would be able to “totally destroy the whale watching industry … if a permit is granted by one nation”.
Since 1992, all the Caribbean members of the IWC have consistently voted in favour of repealing the moratorium. But last year, Dominica took the unprecedented step of not voting in support of Japan, since it felt that such a move would be at odds with its image as an ecologically-aware island. A study by the Australia-based firm Economists at Large & Associates said whale-watching had become a 2.1-billion- dollar global industry in 2008. In the Caribbean and Central America, whale-watching is growing at a significant rate, with countries in the region now earning more than 54 million dollars a year from it as part of their tourism product.
An international conference on “Sustainable ‘blue’ tourism in the Caribbean” held in the French island of Martinique in February strongly urged Caribbean governments “to give their full support and encouragement to whale-watching activities as a valid and sustainable means of protecting marine mammal populations and creating jobs, earning foreign exchange and providing sustainable livelihoods for fishermen and local coastal communities” .
Marine biologist Lyne Morrisette of the Marine Science Institute of Canada said a three-year research project that simulated the removal of whales from the Caribbean’s ocean ecosystem did not result in an increase in fish stocks. “Whales feed in cold waters of the North Atlantic, in the St. Lawrence, the Bay of Fundy or Europe,” Morrisette said. “Then they come down here to breed and to have their babies. During that time they are nursing and they don’t feed at all.”
But Grenada’s commissioner designate to the IWC Justin Rennie dismissed the study. “In the Caribbean, we are not separated by other regions in terms of the resources,” he declared. “So while (whales) may not be feeding here, they might be feeding in another area…so we cannot just look at the Caribbean as a separate entity.”
Environmentalist Atherton Martin says Dominica needs to provide leadership on the conservation issues that are raised at the IWC and should also propose the establishment of a whale sanctuary in the Caribbean. “France has already taken the lead. We need to join and incorporate the science that France bring into the marine environment and do the same,” he said.

For the original report go to http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=51887

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