53rd Annual General Meeting
London, United Kingdom

The Annual Meeting took place from 23 - 27 July, 2001 at the Novotel London West, Hammersmith International Centre, London, under the Chairmanship of Prof. Bo Fernholm (Sweden).

The associated meetings of the Scientific Committee and Commission Committees and Working Groups were held at the same venue in the period 2 - 25 July.

Icelandic membership

The major item discussed on the first morning concerned the adherence of Iceland to the Convention with a reservation to Paragraph 10(e). That paragraph refers to what is popularly termed the 'moratorium' on commercial whaling.

There was a difference of views as to whether the Commission should accept Iceland's reservation, and indeed whether the Commission has the competence to decide. On the latter point, the Commission voted by 19 votes to 18 votes (1 country was absent for the vote) that it had the competence to determine the legal status of Iceland's reservation. After that vote, the Commission voted on a motion that:

"The Commission does not accept Iceland's reservation regarding paragraph 10(e) of the Schedule (i.e. that Iceland is not bound by paragraph 10(e) of the Schedule, as reflected in its instrument of adherence dated 8 June 2001.)"

Sixteen member nations refused to participate in the vote, believing it to be illegal. The motion was then carried with 19 votes in favour, 0 votes against and 3 abstentions.

After consultation with Commissioners, the Chairman then ruled that Iceland should "assist in the meeting as an observer." This ruling was challenged. In the subsequent vote, the Chairman's ruling was upheld by 18 votes to 16 votes with 3 abstentions (1 country was absent for the vote).

Catch limits for commercial whaling

In 1982, the Commission took a decision, which came into force from the 1986 and 1985/86 seasons, that catch limits for all commercial whaling would be set to zero.

Norway has lodged objections to the ban and has exercised its right to set national catch limits for its coastal whaling operations for minke whales.

The Commission passed a Resolution urging Norway to reconsider exercising this right and to reconsider granting export permits for whale products.

As in previous years, the Commission did not adopt a proposal by Japan for an interim relief allocation of 50 minke whales to be taken by coastal community-based whaling. However, the Commission did pass by majority a Resolution reaffirming the Commission's commitment to work expeditiously to alleviate the distress caused by the cessation of minke whaling to the communities of Abashiri, Ayukawa, Wadaura and Taiji.

Revised Management Scheme

Although the Commission has accepted and endorsed the Revised Management Procedure (RMP) for commercial whaling, it has noted that work on a number of issues, including specification of an inspection and observer system must be completed before the Commission will consider establishing catch limits other than zero. This work is ongoing.

The Commission had held an intersessional Working Group meeting in February 2001 which made some progress. At this year's meeting it was agreed to establish an intersessional 'Expert Drafting Group' that will try to develop final text for the inspection and observation scheme.

Catch limits for aboriginal subsistence whaling

The Commission has agreed to the following catch limits for several stocks subject to aboriginal subsistence whaling.

Bering-Chukchi-Beaufort Seas stock of bowhead whales (taken by Alaskan Eskimos and native peoples of Chukotka) - The total number of landed whales for the years 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002 shall not exceed 280 whales, with no more than 67 whales struck in any year (up to 15 unused strikes may be carried over each year).

Eastern North Pacific gray whales (taken by those whose "traditional, aboriginal and subsistence needs have been recognised) - A total catch of 620 whales is allowed for the years 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002 with a maximum of 140 in any one year.

West Greenland fin whales (taken by Greenlanders) - An annual catch of 19 whales is allowed for the years 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002.

West Greenland minke whales (taken by Greenlanders) - The annual number of whales struck for the years 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002, shall not exceed 175 (up to 15 unused strikes may be carried over each year).

East Greenland minke whales (taken by Greenlanders) - An annual catch of 12 whales is allowed for the years 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002 (up to 3 unused strikes may be carried over each year).

Humpback whales (taken by St Vincent and The Grenadines) - for the seasons 2000 to 2002, the annual catch shall not exceed two whales.

The taking of calves or females accompanied by calves is forbidden.

The Scientific Committee has continued to make progress towards developing new management regimes for aboriginal subsistence whaling; this work has been given high priority by the Commission. The catch limits for aboriginal subsistence whaling will need to be renewed next year and the Scientific Committee will be recommending a new method of establishing catch limits for bowhead whales at that time.

Status of whales

Despite a long period of protection, several populations of great whales remain highly endangered and number 500 or less. These include all bowhead whale stocks apart from the Bering-Chukchi-Beaufort Seas stock that numbers over 7,000; gray whales in the western Pacific (those in the eastern Pacific, by contrast, number over 20,000); all stocks of northern right whales; and various stocks of blue whales. Some of these small Arctic bowhead populations are subjected to direct catches outside IWC regulations (a bowhead was taken in 2000 by Canadian Eskimos), or are killed by ship strikes or are bycaught in fishing gear. The Commission has attached great importance to trying to improve the survivorship of these stocks. This year it passed two Resolutions, one on western Pacific gray whales and the other on incidental catches

Scientific Permits

Two proposed permits by Japan were considered. One is an extension of its continuing programme in the Southern Hemisphere (now 40010% minke whales from the Antarctic). The second is for the final year of a two-year feasibility study primarily aimed at feeding ecology in the context of contributing to the "conservation and sustainable use of marine living resources in the western North Pacific, especially within Japan's EEZ."

The programme proposes the taking of 100 minke whales, 50 Bryde's whales and 10 sperm whales in the western North Pacific. The issuance of such permits is a sovereign right under the Convention. The Commission adopted Resolutions by majority calling on the Government of Japan to refrain from issuing these permits and reiterated that in reviewing scientific permits, the Scientific Committee should examine whether the research is required for management or could be carried out using non-lethal means.

Whale killing methods and associated welfare issues

In 1998, the Commission had passed a Resolution that encouraged nations to supply relevant data on killing times and related issues in future years and also to provide technical assistance to reduce time to unconsciousness and death in aboriginal subsistence fisheries.

This year, the Commission reviewed progress in the context of the revised 'Action Plan' developed by the Commission in 1998 and passed a Resolution detailing plans to hold an expert workshop on this issue in 2003 and encouraging member countries to submit relevant data and expertise to help reduce times to unconsciousness and death in all whaling operations.

Environmental Research

In recent years, the Commission has strengthened its commitment to research on environmental changes and the effects on cetaceans. In particular, last year, it has provided some 'seed funding' for two major collaborative research initiatives made by its Scientific Committee with respect to:

  1. Chemical pollutants (POLLUTION 2000+) and
  2. Baleen whale habitat and prey studies in co-operation with CCAMLR and Southern Ocean GLOBEC (SOWER 2000).

However, these programmes require considerably more funding if they are to succeed. Although the Commission has provided more money for the coming year, Governments and others are requested to provide additional funding. The Commission has also passed a Resolution endorsing the Scientific Committee's plans to hold a workshop to begin to look at interactions between fisheries and cetaceans.

The Commission passed a Resolution by consensus with some reservations encouraging governments to sign, ratify and adhere to the 2001 Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants. It also passed a Resolution on the importance of habitat protection and integrated coastal zone management.

Small Cetaceans

Notwithstanding the different views of member countries over the legal competence of the IWC to manage small cetaceans, Contracting Governments continue to co-operate in consideration of small cetaceans, particularly with respect to the work of the Scientific Committee. This year the Commission passed two Resolutions on small cetaceans

Financial contributions

At last year's meeting, the Commission established a Task Force charged with working intersessionally to identify a set of principles with a view to developing a more equitable scheme for financial contributions. Specifically, a new scheme should reduce the financial burden of membership of small developing countries. At the Meeting, the Commission:

  1. Endorsed the 'guiding principles' recommended by the Task Force - Openness, stability, fairness and 'user pays'
  2. Noted that it had made considerable progress and
  3. Instructed the Task Force to undertake further work at another intersessional meeting before the 2002 Annual Meeting to try to reach consensus.

Future Annual Meetings

The 2002 Annual Meeting will take place in Shimonoseki, Japan in May.

The 2003 meeting will take place in Germany.

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