Earth Island Institute

ECO: The environmental voice at the IWC

ECO is published by Earth Island Institute’s International Marine Mammal Project at the meeting of the International Whaling Commission on behalf of environmental and animal welfare organizations around the globe.

For further information, please contact: Mark J. Palmer, Associate Director, Earth Island Institute, International Marine Mammal Project.

Previous volumes of ECO are available here.


Volume LXIV · Panama City, Panama · No. 4 · Thursday July 5, 2012
Acrobat .pdf of issue

Some of the History Behind the Moratorium

Joji Morishita and Dan Goodman—familiars at IWC—recently published a paper in the Aegean Review of the Law of the Sea, (2011) 1: 301-11, attacking the legal action by Australia in contesting, through the International Court of Justice, Japan’s “scientific whaling” in the Southern Ocean. They argued, inter alia, that the 1982 commercial moratorium was not intended as a permanent ban (correct) and that it had been justified solely on the basis of the inadequacies of science (false—the IWC’s failures included managing catching whales with a seriously flawed “Procedure” and allowing continued whaling without effective arrangements for ensuring compliance with regulations). Their paper is strewn with other false assertions and misinterpretations.

I was intrigued, because I was one of those who drafted the infamous Schedule paragraph 10e setting zero catch limits everywhere, and a participant in the implementation from 1975 to 1985 of the so-called New Management Procedure (NMP) embodied in Schedule paragraph 10a-c, referred to at the time as “The Australian Compromise Amendment” to the various proposals for a moratorium, following the 1972 call by the United Nations—supported by all UN members except Japan.

The prime author of the RMP, Justin Cooke, has insisted—correctly—that the NMP was—and still is, in the Schedule—not a “procedure,” sensu strictu. I call it a hopeful decision. The distinction is important. A medical “procedure” is the actual detailed schedule of an operation, including remembering to remove all the swabs and instruments from the body before stitching it up. The NMP is more like: “Let’s look inside and see if we can find a tumor, and, if we do, try to cut most of it out.”

The NMP did lead eventually to the protection of all the baleen whales feeding in the Antarctic except the Southern minke, although pelagic catching of them would probably soon have ceased anyway because of lack of whales. (Japan might have continued as a matter of unprofitable historic and cultural principle.)

Now I’ll let you into a secret. The essence of the 1974 “compromise” was that zero catch limits would be set for all stocks determined to be more than a few percent below the stock size needed to provide Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) of each species and Ôstock’ by number of whales. (The 1974 Commission resolution said “by total weight”—mainly my and FAO/UNEP influence—but that was quickly dropped; it would imply a somewhat longer period of protection for adequate recovery of depleted stocks). But where was MSY on the population scale between “virgin” and “extinct?” An implementation meeting in La Jolla, California, early in 1975, spent most of a week debating this, and also what would be the percentage below MSY that the stock could be before the catch limit became zero—the famous Z-Factor.

Japanese scientists pressed for 50 percent of “virgin”—that’s what the US government was pressing for yellowfin tuna in the Eastern Tropical Pacific and elsewhere. Seiji Ohsumi produced a population model (not involving actual data), which showed—surprise, surprise—that the optimum would be 50 percent. Some, more conservatively inclined, Committee members preferred 70 percent or even 80 percent, and offered “biological” arguments—still without data. Doug Chapman of the USA, then Chairman of the Scientific Committee, and I—representing FAO and UNEP—suggested 60 percent, which was adopted by consensus. There were no valid scientific reasons for any of these figures. Doug and I conferred about this—we had worked together for several years (with K. R. Allen, the author of the Australian “compromise” and later SC Chairman) in the so-called IWC Committee of Three Wise Men (we did not invent that title!) and understood better than most the politics of all this. If we did not have a consensus, it would be impossible to apply the NMP, and all catch limits would be empty spaces, by default. Commercial whaling would continue to be a global free-for-all.

So 60 percent it was.

[Sidney says he is writing an essay entitled “Science and the Management of Whaling” with more such revelations. He fears it will not be accepted for publication in the Journal of Cetacean Research and Management.]