56th Annual General Meeting
Sorrento, Italy

The Annual Meeting took place from 19-22 July 2004 at the Hilton Hotel in Sorrento, Italy. Due to the recent illness of the Chair, Com. Henrik Fischer (Denmark) and the absence of the Vice-Chair Carlos Dominguez Diaz (Spain) due to a change in his domestic responsibilities, the meeting was administered by an acting Chair, Rollie Schmitten (USA) and acting Vice-Chair, Minoru Morimoto (Japan). Delegates thanked the Government of Italy for the excellent facilities provided.

The associated meetings of the Scientific Committee and Commission Committees and Working Groups were held at the same venue during the preceding three weeks.

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. A proposal to take the RMS process forward was developed intersessionally by the Chair of the Commission. A Resolution (2004-6) aimed at trying to have draft text ready for consideration and possible adoption and/or to identify any outstanding policy and technical issues next year was passed by consensus.


Proposals for sanctuaries in the South Pacific (26 for, 21 against, 4 abstentions) and South Atlantic (26 for, 22 against, 4 abstentions) failed to gain the necessary three-quarters majorities to be adopted. Similarly a proposal to delete the provision for the Southern Ocean Sanctuary and to include a catch limit of 2,914 Antarctic minke whales was not adopted (19 for, 30 against, 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 proposals by Japan for catch limits of 100 minke whales (24 for, 28 against, 1 abstention) and 150 Bryde's whales (22 for, 29 against, 2 abstentions) to be taken by coastal community-based whaling. However, the Commission passed a Resolution (2004-2) by consensus to work to resolve this issue.

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. This year, the Commission endorsed and adopted a new long-term scientific approach to providing advice on strike limits for gray whales; this follows on from the similar approach adopted for bowhead whales two years ago. The Scientific Committee will now work to produce a similar approach for the Greenlandic aboriginal subsistence whaling fisheries, where to date, the Committee is concerned that it has never been able to provide management advice.

The present catch limits are in force for aboriginal subsistence whaling and no changes were made to these this year. Bowhead whales - 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 - A total catch of 620 whales is allowed for the years 2003 - 2007 with a maximum of 140 in any one year.
  • West Greenland fin whales - An annual catch of 19 whales is allowed for the years 2003 - 2007.
  • West Greenland minke whales - The annual number of whales struck for the years 2003-2007, shall not exceed 175 (up to 15 unused strikes may be carried over each year).
  • East Greenland minke whales - An annual catch of 12 whales is allowed for the years 2003 - 2007 (up to 3 unused strikes may be carried over each year).
  • Western North Atlantic Humpback whales - 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 Schedule language was consolidated and harmonised.

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 the 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. In particular, this year the Commission adopted a Resolution (2004-1) on the critically endangered Western North Pacific Gray whales by consensus.

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 presented last year; only a permit for 39 common minke whales was issued. Again, different views on the value of this research were expressed in the Scientific Committee. Last year 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). As this resolution is still in force and in order to save time, Australia and other co-sponsors withdrew a similar proposed Resolution this year.

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 passed a Resolution (29 for, 22 against) (2004-3) requesting further work from the Working Group on Whale Killing Methods and Associated Welfare Issues.

Conservation Committee

Last year, the Commission passed a Resolution to establish a Conservation Committee, comprising of all members of the Commission. This year, the Conservation Committee met to determine its terms of reference and modus operandi.

Antarctic Cruises

The Commission congratulated the scientists and crews who had completed the the Third set of circumpolar cruises under the Commission’s long-standing SOWER programme and thanked the Government of Japan for generously providing the vessels.


Given that incidental captures of cetaceans (both large and small) is one of the most serious threats to their status in many parts of the world, the Commission has agreed that it will promote a series of regional workshops to develop both short- and long-term approaches to the successful management and mitigation of the cetacean bycatch problems in those regions. The first of these will be held in Argentina in 2005 and will address the franciscana, in collaboration with other appropriate international and regional organisations.

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.

New Officers

The Commission elected Horst Kleinschmidt (South Africa) as the new Vice-Chair.

Future Meetings

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

The 2006 meetings will take place in St Kitts and Nevis.

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