55th Annual General Meeting
Berlin, Germany

The Annual Meeting took place from 16-19 June, 2003 at the Estrel Hotel and Convention Centre, Berlin under the Chairmanship of Prof. Bo Fernholm (Sweden). Delegates thanked the Government of Germany for the excellent facilities provided.

The associated meetings of the Scientific Committee and Commission Committees and Working Groups were held at the same venue in the period 24 May -13 June 2003.

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 (called the Revised Management Scheme) before the Commission will consider establishing catch limits other than zero. This work is ongoing and the Commission agreed to establish an intersessional group of Commissioners' under the new Chair to explore ways to take the RMS forwards.


Proposals for sanctuaries in the South Pacific (24 votes for, 17 against and 4 abstentions) and South Atlantic (24 votes for, 19 against and 3 abstentions) failed to gain the necessary three-quarters majorities to be adopted. Similarly a proposal to change the provision for the Southern Ocean Sanctuary was not adopted (17 votes for, 26 against and 2 abstentions).

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 did not adopt a proposal by Japan for catch limits of 150 minke whales (19 votes for, 26 against and 1 abstentions) and 150 Bryde's whales (17 for, 27 against, 1 abstention) to be taken by coastal community-based whaling.

Catch limits for aboriginal subsistence whaling

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. Last year, the Commission endorsed and adopted a new long-term scientific approach to providing advice on strike limits for bowhead whales. The Scientific Committee is working to produce similar methods for the other whales stocks subject to aboriginal subsistence whaling. The present catch limits are in force for aboriginal subsistence whaling:

  • Bowhead whales (taken by Alaskan Eskimos and native people of Chukotka) - up to 280 whales may be landed in the period 2003 - 2007, with no more than 67 whales struck in any year (and 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 2003 - 2006 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 2003 - 2006.
  • West Greenland minke whales (taken by Greenlanders) - The annual number of whales struck for the years 2003-2006, 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 2003 - 2006 (up to 3 unused strikes may be carried over each year).
  • Humpback whales (taken by St Vincent and The Grenadines) - For the seasons 2003-2007 the number of humpback whales to be taken by the Bequians of St. Vincent and the Grenadines shall not exceed 20. The meat and products of such whales are to be used exclusively for local consumption in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Such whaling must be conducted under formal legislation.

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

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 10,000; gray whales in the western Pacific (those in the eastern Pacific, by contrast, number over 17,000); 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 2002 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.

Scientific Permits

Two proposed permits by Japan were considered. One is an extension of its continuing programme in the Southern Hemisphere (now 400±10% minke whales from the Antarctic). The second is for a long-term research programme 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 150 minke whales, 50 Bryde's whales, 50 sei whales and 10 sperm whales in the western North Pacific. A proposed permit by Iceland, primarily for feeding ecology studies for 100 common minke whales, 100 fin whales and 50 sei whales in each of two years was also presented. Again, different views on the value of this research were expressed in the Scientific Committee. The Commission passed a Resolution urging countries to terminate or not to commence special permit catches (24 in favour, 21 against and 1 abstention). It also passed a Resolution asking Japan not to continue its special permit catches of Antarctic minke whales ( 24 in favour, 21 against, 1 abstention).

Whale killing methods and associated welfare issues

In 1998, the Commission 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 held a successful expert Workshop and adopted a revised action plan.

Conservation Committee

The Commission passed a Resolution (25 in favour, 20 against and 1 abstention) to establish a Conservation Committee, comprising of all members of the Commission, whose functions are:

  1. The preparation and recommendation to the Commission of its future Conservation Agenda;
  2. The implementation of those items in the Agenda that the Commission may refer to it; and
  3. Making recommendations to the Commission in order to maintain and update the Conservation Agenda on a continuing basis.

Small Cetaceans

Notwithstanding the different views of member countries over the legal competence of the IWC to manage small cetaceans, many Contracting Governments continue to co-operate in the consideration of small cetacean issues, particularly with respect to the work of the Scientific Committee.

Financial contributions

Again, during this year, the Commission-appointed Task Force worked intersessionally to develop a more equitable scheme for financial contributions. Specifically, this scheme should reduce the financial burden of membership of small developing countries. At the Meeting, the Task Force reported that it had made good progress but had not yet been able to produce a fully-developed scheme. The Commission directed the Task Force to try to complete its work by the next Annual Meeting in 2004. Last year, the Commission adopted an interim scheme which gives a substantial amount of relief to a number of member governments.


The Commission adopted a Resolution to establish a Working Group aiming at exploring the various implications for the provision of technical components for simultaneous interpretation.

New officers

The Commission extended warm thanks to Prof. Bo Fernholm, who completed his 3-year term as Chair of the Commission. He was succeeded by the previous vice-chair, Comm. Henrik Fischer (Denmark). Carlos Dominguez Diaz (Spain) was elected as the new vice-chair.


Finally, the meeting rose in tribute to Martin Harvey, who is leaving the Secretariat after 27 years as its Executive Officer. Martin's calmness, efficiency, fairness and good humour are legendary and the Commission will miss him sorely.

Future Meetings

The 2004 meetings will take place in June/July in Italy.

The 2005 meetings will take place in Ulsan, Republic of Korea

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