Whalers try to challenge competency of IWC

On the 30th April 1998, the North Atlantic Marine Mammal Commission (NAMMCO), issued a press release entitled, 'International Observation of Whaling and Sealing'.

The report states that, 'the purpose of the NAMMCO International Observational Scheme is to provide a mechanism for the NAMMCO member countries, Norway, Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands, to monitor the conduct and regulation of their respective marine mammal hunting activities'. The report goes onto state that, 'in 1998, activities under the NAMMCO International Observation Scheme will be confined to land-based observation, although the Scheme also allows for the placement of observers on board whaling and sealing vessels'.

The establishment of the NAMMCO 'International Observational Scheme' appears to be another cynical effort to undermine the competency of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and its current moratorium on whaling. NAMMCO has, over the last few years, consistently sought to challenge the authority of the IWC to manage cetaceans.

NAMMCO was established in 1992 by agreement between the fisheries ministries of Iceland and Norway, and the Home Rule Governments of the Faroe Islands and Greenland. Its creation was the culmination of several years of negotiations and preliminary accords among the four parties, spawned in the late 1980s by their dissatisfaction with the IWC's global moratorium on commercial whaling. The whalers have made it clear that they see NAMMCO as the "responsible" alternative to the IWC, i.e. an organisation which will allow catches of marine mammals at levels seen fit by the whalers. This it cannot do. NAMMCO has no authority to manage whales and cannot take over the functions of the IWC. Any quotas that it sets e.g. for minke whales that Norway hunts under objection, would be without authority and nations exercising such quotas would be 'pirate whalers'.

NAMMCO's attempts to establish an inspection and observation scheme that is applicable to whaling from vessels is straying directly into the work being carried out by the IWC on the Revised Management Scheme (RMS). To date the IWC has not completed this work, partly due to the need for a strict enforcement scheme that will prevent the repetition of the long history of abuses carried out by whalers seeking to optimise their economic returns from commercial whaling. For many countries this history of multiple abuses of IWC regulations means that no commercial whaling can ever be contemplated.

NAMMCO's bid to replace the functions of the IWC in the North Atlantic has had no success so far. All other North Atlantic states that are IWC members are fully committed to the IWC's work. The two other North Atlantic states invited by the four founders to become full members of NAMMCO, Canada and Russia have not done so. The IWC maintains its moratorium on commercial whaling with the support of a clear majority of its members, including Britain, where public backing for the moratorium is overwhelming. The UK, a founding member of the IWC, has been among the majority of IWC states clearly opposed to the notion that NAMMCO has any legitimate role in the management of cetaceans in the North Atlantic. In a letter dated the 17th March 1995, the UK's Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food stated, '...it is the UK's firm view that the International Whaling Commission is the appropriate international body to manage and conserve cetacean stocks in the North Atlantic, and indeed world-wide.'

At the UN's 1992 Earth Summit, the NAMMCO parties failed to win support for their position that regional organisations in general could be entrusted with responsibility for the management of whaling; by consensus agreement the governments of the world gave that responsibility to the one valid international organisation, the IWC.

However, the whalers have always appeared to wish NAMMCO to be something more. In a 10 April 1992 press release from the Royal Department of Fisheries (Norway) it was stated '....As a field of operation in the beginning for NAMMCO will be the management of small toothed whales and the regional stocks of seals'.

However, some observers saw the organisation as a clear threat to the IWC: 'Officially NAMMCO is to be a supplement to the IWC, but the way NAMMCO has organised itself makes it clear that it aims to take over management of the North Atlantic whale stocks', reported the Norwegian news agency NTB from Torshavn.

This is not the first attempt by NAMMCO to destabilise the IWC. The hunting of northern Bottlenose whales is legally managed by the IWC, which has established zero quotas for this whale. Writing in the 'Pilot', the newsletter of the Marine Mammal Action Plan, Sanderson notes that 'the Scientific Committee [of NAMMCO] has been requested to provide scientific advice on harp seals and hooded seals, ringed seals and grey seals, long-finned pilot whales, killer whales, bottlenose whales and Atlantic walruses.' Sanderson goes onto state, 'The Scientific Committee has also carried out the first conclusive assessment of the northern bottlenose whale population' (Sanderson, 1995).

The report of the third NAMMCO Scientific Committee meeting confirms that NAMMCO have been discussing management objectives in relation to northern bottlenose whales, (NAMMCO 1995).

Whilst attending the 'Whaling in the North Atlantic: Economic and Political Perspectives' conference (Reykjavik, Iceland March 1st 1997), Kate Sanderson stated that 'the Faroese could take 300 northern bottlenose whales per year'. At the same conference , Kjarten Hdal (Director of NORA, Faroe Islands) stated that the bottlenose whale 'strands naturally in the Faroes - but assisted strandings are even more common'. Hdal went onto support Sandersen's claim that the Faroese could take 300 whales a year.

NAMMCO (1995). Report of the Third Meeting of the Scientific Committee, NAMMCO, Tromso, Norway.

Sanderson, K. (1995). Introducing NAMMCO: A New Regional Approach to Marine Mammal Conservation, The Pilot No. 13 pp10-12.