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Harpooning Caribbean Tourism: Swallowing a Dead Rat

Icelandic whaling for Japanese market

It’s the high seas equivalent of shooting yourself in the foot. Several Caribbean governments are harpooning their own sustainable tourism industry by supporting Japan’s ruthless campaign to continue killing whales. 

A group of International Whaling Commission (IWC) nations meeting from March 2 to 4 in Florida is reported to have considered recommending to the full membership that Japan, Iceland and Norway be allowed to hunt whales despite a 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling.  Japan, in particular, would no longer have to pretend that, in killing thousands of whales every year, it is doing so for “scientific” purposes.  
Japan does not deny that meat from slaughtered whales ends up in restaurants and shops.
As this commentary is being written a shipment of whale meat is being transported by ship from Iceland to Japan in an expensive and backward step to resuscitate trade in whale meat. Twenty-six nations condemned Iceland last October for expanding commercial whaling, pointing out that it brings little benefit to Iceland’s economy and great harm to its tourism industry.
Caribbean countries have nothing to gain if the proposal from the IWC’s small working group is adopted by the wider membership. Voting for it would certainly adversely affect the Caribbean’s brand of itself as environmentally friendly, and harm the growing whale-watching aspect of its tourism industry.
A study by a group of Australian Economists placed whale-watching as a US$2.1 billion global industry in 2008. In the Caribbean and Central American whale-watching is growing at a rate of 12.8%, three times more than the growth rate of the global tourism industry from whale-watching as part of their tourism product, while earnings from whaling are practically zero.
Despite this, members of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) and Suriname have routinely supported Japan’s efforts in the International Whaling Commission (IWC) to slaughter whales every year in defiance of the international prohibition. 
It is claimed that the Caribbean countries membership and participation in the IWC are fully paid-up even though many of these same countries are unable to pay subscriptions to their own regional groups. The suggestion being that Japan is the pay-master and provides fisheries projects in these countries in return for their support.
Japanese whaling
Significantly, an international meeting in Martinique from 18 to 21 February on “Sustainable ‘blue’ tourism in the Caribbean” 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” . In making this call, the participants – the majority of whom were from the Caribbean – recalled that in 2008, the Prime Minister of Dominica Roosevelt Skerrit took the “principled position” to withdraw his Government's support for whaling at the IWC as being “incompatible” with Dominica's brand as a “Nature Isle”. They called on the leaders of other OECS countries to join him.
The stand-off at the IWC between whale killing by Japan and its supportive small states, and whale conservation by countries such as Brazil, Costa Rica, India, the United States, South Africa, Germany and Australia, has dragged-on for some time. Last year, the small working group was established to try to bring an end to the impasse. Many hoped that the group’s work would result in strong proposals to ensure that IWC rules are fully respected and implemented, and that whaling in the Southern Ocean Whale sanctuary would be phased out swiftly. 
However, it appears that the small group has been coerced into entertaining a different kind of discussion – one in which Japan will be allowed to violate the rules the IWC itself has set and to ignore sanctuaries that have been established.  One of the members of the group said that nations must “swallow a dead rat”.
Experts from around the world are deeply troubled by the proposals emerging from the group. The proposals include:
·                    No provisions to ensure that the existing ban on international trade in whale products is respected;
·                    Authorizing the killing of sperm whales.
·                    Continued whaling in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary;
·                    Weakening of the IWC as a rule making and regulatory international body, encouraging unrestrained actions by individual nations.
Many governments have gotten away with supporting Japan because their publics are not fully aware that, apart from a small number of indigenous communities in the world, only an elite group in Japan consistently eat whale meat.
In the Caribbean, Japanese Associations have paid for the production and broadcast of television programmes which falsely promote whale-killing as a beneficial activity because whales eat fish in Caribbean waters depriving the local population of fish. This claim has been proven, scientifically, to be untrue.  
Evidence of the abhorrence of whale killing and its adverse effect on the world’s biodiversity is the fact that an Oscar was recently awarded to “The Cove” - a documentary film depicting the grisly slaughter of dolphins by Japanese in a cove in south-western Japan. 
Kevin Rudd, Australia’s prime minister, last month threatened to take action against Japan at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) over its Antarctic whale hunt. And, in New Zealand, the foreign affairs spokesman for the opposition Labour Party, Chris Carter, has called on the government to join Australia in taking Japan to the ICJ. 
Kevin Rudd, Australia's Prime Minister
But, Japan remains determined in its stance, not only on whaling but on fisheries generally. Indeed, Japan is so obdurate that it has stated categorically that it will “opt out” of its obligation to stop importing Atlantic bluefin tuna if members of the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species vote this month to add the fish to the treaty’s list of most-protected species. In other words, Japan will only respect those international rules that suit it. 
Japan’s stance is bad news for small countries which depend, for their own survival, on international rules and respect for them within the UN framework. 
Japan has helped to make rules that are imposed on small states – rules with which small countries been forced to comply or be punished. Among these are the regulatory and tax information requirements of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
If the proposals of the small working group are permitted by governments to proceed, Japan, Iceland and Norway will have a free hand, and Japan will no longer need to lure the support of small Caribbean countries in the IWC.  
In June, the IWC will hold its annual meeting in Morocco. That’s the time that the OECS and Suriname governments should join the government of Dominica in taking a principled position that upholds their own interest. 

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