50th Annual General Meeting
Muscat, Oman

The 50th Annual Meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) was held from 16-20 May 1998 in Muscat, Oman. The proceedings were conducted by the Chairman, Mr. Michael Canny (Ireland) and the Vice-Chairman, Mr Bo Fernholm (Sweden).

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. 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. 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 calling on Norway to halt all whaling activities under its jurisdiction.

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 adopted a Resolution that confirmed how anthropogenic removals (e.g. incidental catches, catches under scientific permit, aboriginal subsistence whaling) other than commercial catches should be taken into account when setting catch limits under the RMP.

Last year, Ireland introduced a proposal for discussion intended to lead to a break in the deadlock between the governments opposed to a resumption of commercial whaling and those in favour. Its elements include: completion and adoption of the Revised Management Scheme; designation of a global sanctuary for whales; permission for closely regulated and monitored coastal whaling within 200 mile zones by communities with a long tradition for such activity; prohibition of international trade in whale products; and the cessation of scientific research catches. Reaching consensus on such a package of measures is proving extremely difficult, but many Commissioners expressed their interest on continuing discussions and the Commission agreed to keep this Item on its Agenda.

Catch limits for aboriginal subsistence whaling

Last year, the Commission agreed to the following catch limits for several stocks subject to aboriginal subsistence whaling. No changes to these have been made this year.

  • 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 1996/97 to 1998/99, the annual catch shall not exceed two whales.

The Scientific Committee continued to make progress towards developing new management regimes for aboriginal subsistence whaling; this work has been given high priority by the Commission.

Noting that Canada had issued licenses for aboriginal subsistence whaling on two stocks of bowhead whales for which the Scientific Committee has expressed concern, the Commission adopted a Resolution inviting Canada to rejoin the Commission and not to issue further licenses.

Scientific permit catches

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 the continuing programme to take 100 minke whales in the western North Pacific. The issuance of such permits is a sovereign right under the Convention. The Commission adopted a Resolution calling on the Government of Japan to refrain from issuing these permits.

Humane killing of whales

The Commission developed terms of reference for a specialist Workshop on Whale Killing Methods to be held in 1999.

Southern Ocean Sanctuary

The Commission adopted a Resolution that provided advice to its Scientific Committee on the objectives of the Southern Ocean Sanctuary. These particularly relate to monitoring depleted populations and undertaking research on the effects of environmental change. The Scientific Committee is developing a major co-operative research programme with Southern Ocean GLOBEC and CCAMLR in the Southern Ocean Sanctuary for the years 2000 and 2001.

Environmental research

The Commission has strengthened its commitment to research on environmental changes and the effects on cetaceans. In particular it reiterated its support for two major collaborative research initiatives made by its Scientific Committee with respect to:

  1. Chemical pollutants and
  2. Baleen whale habitat and prey studies in co-operation with CCAMLR and Southern Ocean GLOBEC. This commitment is shown by a proposal to establish a major research fund for environmental research to be considered next year.

Small cetaceans

Notwithstanding the different views of member countries over the legal competence of the IWC to manage small cetaceans, the Contracting Governments continue to co-operate in consideration of small cetaceans, particularly with respect to the work of the Scientific Committee. The Commission adopted a Resolution concerning directed takes of white whales and encouraged a precautionary approach to management.

Co-operation with other organisations

The Commission noted the importance of co-operation with other organisations, particularly in the context of scientific research. Further research co-operation with a number of organisations (including The Agreement on the Conservation of Small Cetaceans of the Baltic and North Seas (ASCOBANS); International Convention on Endangered Species (ICES); Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR); and Southern Ocean GLOBEC (SO-GLOBEC)) has been strengthened this year. In addition, the Commission adopted resolutions relevant to co-operation with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) and, with respect to health issues and consumption of certain cetacean products, with the World Health Organisation.

Establishment of a new scientific journal

The Commission approved the establishment of a major new scientific journal on cetacean research and management, which will commence at the beginning of 1999. This will maintain and improve the high quality of scientific publications published by the IWC.

Date and place of the next Annual Meeting

The next Annual Meeting will be held in Grenada in May 1999.

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