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ECO Newsletter
Issue #5: May 24, 2002

Table of contents:

The Big Lie: Whales As Scapegoats

The message is hard to miss. Three gluttonous whales are blazoned on the side of a Shimonoseki city bus, swallowing entire shoals of fish in a single gulp. Posters are all over town, including in the Kaikyo Messe, the conference center hosting the IWC, that show a gape-mouthed whale facing a globe hemorrhaging fish, right down into its gullet. The accompanying text, in Japanese, says, "Whales are threatening our fish stocks."

The pièce de résistance is a t-shirt with a cartoon of four bloated whales drawn on its front, full to bursting (make that burping!) with fish, while three people lament on the shoreline at the single, pathetic fish in their net. The English caption? "Whales increase, fishes decrease. People are in trouble!"

So the message is hardly subtle. Whales are voraciously eating all the fish, fisher people need to survive, and the only solution is to cull the whales before the fish are all gone.

The only problem with this pervasive and simple message is-it's absurd.

If ecosystems operated with such simple dynamics-remove one predator species, in order to increase the numbers of its prey species - then the world wouldn't be suffering from even a fraction of its current environmental troubles.

In fact, ecosystems are incredibly complex and scientists understand only a small percentage of their interactions. Any massive removal of biomass (either of fish from over-fishing or of predators from culling operations) is far more likely to open up other (unexpected) gaps or close gaps by mixing up interactions in a distinctly nonlinear-and most likely negative-fashion.

Of course, if the Japanese government's attempts to manage its ailing fisheries were well-meaning, its propaganda efforts in Shimonoseki wouldn't be so galling. But these efforts are far from well-meaning. They are self-serving. Japanese government scientists know very well that culling whales will not miraculously increase fish stocks, but the "whales are eating all the fish" message resonates strongly with desperate fishermen and (even more unfortunately) gullible media representatives, thus helping the Japanese government and its whalers justify a return to commercial whaling.

It's not just the Japanese, either. The Icelanders actually started this propaganda campaign many years ago-but it took the Norwegians and then the Japanese to take it global, to raise its profile and find a receptive audience in marine resource management forums that are looking for easy fixes to a pernicious and far from easy problem.

Fish stocks are crashing all over the world; wouldn't it be nice if one could just point the finger at those ravenous whales that have been too long protected by the IWC?

Never mind that long before the commercial whaling and fishing industries came along, whales and fish coexisted for eons just fine, thank you, in dynamic yet relatively stable predator-prey relationships. Even more, never mind that many fish species consumed by whales aren't even targeted by commercial fisheries-or that many whales don't eat fish at all, but invertebrates such as krill and copepods! And certainly never mind that only a tiny fraction of the huge numbers of whales that once existed-without somehow eating all the fish-remains in the oceans today after unconscionable overharvesting in the past by the whaling industry.

Yes, never mind all that. It's much simpler to blame the whales for declining fish stocks. Scapegoating has always been simpler than actually solving problems.

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Russian Orcas Under Attack

Japan's Nagoya Aquarium opened its new orca tank last November without the stars it was designed for. A mad scramble for show animals had taken place, but without success-orcas could not be bought elsewhere in the industry. Norway refused to allow captures, and Japan had stopped issuing capture permits following the 1997 outcry over the capture of the "Taiji Five."

In desperation, the aquarium turned to inexperienced and unlicensed Russian captors, but their attempts failed. Then last December, the Russian government legitimized the hunt, issuing a permit for the capture of ten orcas in the Sakhalin Island area of the Sea of Okhotsk. When the ice clears and orcas return, a new round of capture attempts will begin unless Russia reverses its decision.

Noting the virtual absence of information about the targeted population, the Scientific Committee has recommended that an assessment of the population and potential impacts of removals be undertaken before any captures take place. A resolution supporting this cautionary approach is making the rounds here in Shimonoseki. If it finds support and Russia responds, the orcas of this untouched population might yet be spared.

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Japan's RMS is DOA

Japan's self-serving Revised Management Scheme (RMS), a blueprint to return to the days of rapacious whaling of yore, was decisively voted down by the IWC on Thursday. The proposal needed a three-quarters majority to succeed, but failed to gain that amount, being defeated with 25 No votes, 16 Yes votes, and 3 Abstentions. Even the pro-whaling Norway abstained from the vote on the flawed RMS.

Japan's proposal would ignore such safeguards as international inspections and trade oversight, despite Japan's now well-documented illegal whale meat trade and past violations of IWC regulations. The proposal further would eliminate the existing whale sanctuaries.

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Bush Administration Plans Weakening of the U.S. "Dolphin Safe" Tuna Label

For more than ten years, the U.S. government has attempted to weaken the successful "Dolphin Safe" tuna program at the behest of its trade partners, particularly Mexico, which fields the world's largest fleet of dolphin-killing tuna boats.

And during those ten years, environmental and animal welfare organizations have successfully blocked efforts by the U.S. Administration in Congress and in the courts.

Now, the Administration of President George W. Bush is poised to try again. U.S. Secretary of Commerce Donald Evans will be making a critical decision this year on whether or not to weaken the standards for the "Dolphin Safe" tuna label. It remains to be seen if the Administration has learned its lesson or not. Likely not ...

Tuna fishermen in the Eastern Tropical Pacific (ETP) target dolphins because large yellowfin tuna follow dolphin schools. Since the late 1950s, the tuna fishery has killed more than 7 million dolphins. However, since 1990 and the advent of the "Dolphin Safe" tuna program, reported dolphin deaths have decreased by 97 percent in the ETP.

The "Dolphin Safe" tuna label has saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of dolphins. The U.S. label now prohibits use of any tuna caught by chasing and netting of dolphins by fishermen (e.g. non-encirclement of dolphins). Tuna companies throughout the world recognize the non-encirclement standard as appropriate to protect dolphins, and consumers overwhelmingly support truly "Dolphin Safe" tuna.

However, politically-connected tuna millionaires in Mexico, Colombia, and Venezuela have teamed up with free-trade advocates in the Bush Administration trying to undercut U.S. dolphin protection laws and open U.S.-and eventually E.U.-markets to dolphin-deadly tuna. They advocate allowing tuna to be caught by deliberately chasing, harassing, netting and even killing dolphins, as long as an on-board observer claims not to have seen any dolphins die outright.

Yet another "special interest" has entered the picture: The drug cartels in Mexico and Colombia. In December 2001, another tuna fishing vessel, a Mexican-flagged purse seiner, was seizedby the U.S. Coast Guard carrying ten and a half tons of cocaine along with illegal tuna caught during an official closure period. A second Mexican purse-seiner running "atun blanco" was scuttled by its own crew in March 2002 offshore Mexico, rather than be boarded by U.S. Coast Guard vessels.

The Secretary's finding on the "Dolphin Safe" label is supposed to be based on science, but the politics of trade is winning out over the lives of dolphins.

Recent research from the Commerce Department's own scientists at the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) demonstrates that dolphin populations being chased and netted are not increasing in numbers in the ETP, and in fact may still be declining in numbers. One study indicates that the fishing practice of chasing and netting separates dolphin mothers from dependent calves. Additional evidence has revealed that "official" counts of low dolphin mortality by on-board monitors on Mexican tuna vessels are not credible.

Environmental and animal welfare advocates successfully sued the Clinton Administration, which tried to weaken the "Dolphin Safe" tuna label standards in 1999. In 2000, a federal court judge upheld the current strong standards for the tuna label. In 2001, a three-judge panel unanimously ruled in favor of dolphins and the environmental organizations, calling the Clinton decision "arbitrary and capricious."

The new proposal by the Bush Administration to weaken the "Dolphin Safe" tuna label will harm dolphins, U.S. consumers, and tuna companies around the world which are working to prevent the killing and injuring of dolphins by avoiding chasing and netting schools of dolphins to catch tuna. Dolphins should not be sacrificed on the altar of "Free Trade."

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Iceland Vote

The Monday vote was whether to object (yes vote) or not (no vote) to the Chairman's ruling that Iceland could not be an IWC member in keeping with the vote at IWC 53.

This was the key first vote to see which countries would support whalers or anti-whalers. The correct conservation vote is "NO".

Voting NO were Argentina, Australia, Austria, Brazil, Chile, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Italy, Korea, Mexico, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Oman, Peru, Portugal, San Marino, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, U.K., and the U.S.

Voting YES were Antigua/Barbuda, Benin, China, Denmark, Dominica, Finland, Gabon, Grenada, Guinea, Japan, Mongolia, Morocco, Norway, Palau, Panama, Russian Federation, St. Kitts/Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent/Grenadines, and Solomon Islands.

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"A knife in our back" says Russia
"Black Day" at IWC

Japan and its puppet pro-whalers Thursday plunged the IWC into what several commissioners termed a "Black Day" in the history of the commission when the aboriginal whaling quotas on bowhead whales in Russia and Alaska were shot down.

"This is a black day for the IWC, not only for the natives but how the IWC does business," observed the Netherlands commissioner after the vote. Despite commitments by all IWC nations to support the quotas, made earlier in a private meeting of the commissioners, Japan's bloc marched in lockstep to deny the necessary three-quarters majority. The bowhead quotas, which required a 3/4 vote, failed with 30 yes votes and 14 no votes.

"In our part of the world, a word of honor is a word of honor," commented Monaco's commissioner, referring to the broken commitments. The IWC has been "effectively taken hostage" by the whaling bloc, he warned, adding that "this is certainly an hour of disgrace for the IWC."

Japan's deputy commissioner, Masayuki "Minkes are Cockroaches" Komatsu, openly explained his blackmail tactic afterward in a press release from Japan's Fisheries Agency:

"Japan is tired of asking year after year for 50 minke from an abundant stock for our traditional whalers only to have the United States vote against it; yet we have always supported the Alaskan's taking almost 280 bowhead whales. Well, this year, the United States delegation has a message to take back home-end the hypocrisy.

"Every year the United States votes against Japan's Small-Type Coastal Whalers' request for relief quota of 50 minke whales from the abundant western North Pacific stock. This hypocrisy could no longer continue."

The U.S. commissioner declared that the vote against the aboriginal quotas was "very little about science ... everything to do about politics."

Russia's commissioner said the vote was "an unfriendly move against the natives of Chukotka and Alaska."

But it was Russia's deputy commissioner-a whaler and Russian Parliament member from Chukotka-Vladimir Etylin, who was most eloquent in condemning the double-dealing by Japan and Co.: "On our way here we had hoped that we would deal with a serious international organization, one of whose basic goals was the management of the aboriginal harvest, based on sound science. Allow me to repeat that-strongly based on sound science that conserves the biodiversity on the planet. Instead, what we saw here was petty politics and intrigue. Through criticizing the policy of the double standard, these parties espouse the policy of the triple standard.

"We ask you, was it the Northern Native people that over-exploited the populations of whales in the world's oceans? You, yourself, must answer 'no,' since this is the truth.

"I will tell the government of Russia. I will tell the Russian Parliament. I will ask for their protection and ask them to evaluate the politics of the governments that put a knife in our back."

The impasse over aboriginal whaling virtually paralyzed the IWC for a second straight day. Today, Russia and the U.S. will once again seek to win quotas for their native peoples.

It has become very clear indeed that Japan, which has obstructed international efforts to protect whales for years and has repeatedly circumvented IWC restrictions on whaling, has now abandoned any pretense of responsible, professional negotiation. Instead, the Japan Fisheries Agency has adopted a course of obstructing all action within the IWC and pandering to the Japanese media through constant press conferences during IWC breaks and issuing scathing press releases. Japan wants the press to believe it is a "righteous" Japan against the world, and that they are the victims. The fact is that Japan's government is allowing the vicious whaling industry to dominate its foreign policy, regardless of the consequences.

Japan's blatant vote buying, illegal whale meat trade, and frequent circumventions of the IWC Convention have been noted in ECO every day this week.

The world is watching the desperate and destructive antics of the Fisheries Agency. Where is the Japanese Foreign Ministry?

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ECO's Spectacular Annual Awards

To Mexico's Commissioner Andres Rozental, for being what all diplomats strive to be: caring, convincing, and correct.

To Japan's Masayuki Komatsu, a special Most Quotable Bizarre Quotes Award from a grateful ECO staff who didn't have to make anything up.

To the eloquent ministers and commissioners of U.K., Australia, New Zealand, and the U.S., for continuing leadership for whales and their ocean habitats.

To the Caribbean bloc countries, for their unparalleled hypocrisy in preaching self-determination but denying fellow island states who want a whale sanctuary in the South Pacific. Just who is the "axis of intolerance?"

To Commissioner Hadil da Rocha Vianna of Brazil, for bringing forward the Southern Atlantic Whale Sanctuary proposal.

To Norway's Odd Gunnar Skagestad, for repeatedly being frankly rude and uncompromising in his zeal to continue killing wild whales.

ECO would also like to give an award to the delegation of Iceland, but we don't know whether they are an IWC member or not ...

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