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Trinidad & Tobago and the International Whaling Commission

Whale of a tale

Trinidad & Tobago Sunday Express

Mark Meredith

11th April 2004

Deb McIntyre of Australia and David DeJong
of the Netherlands attach their inflatable
to the harpooned minke at the stern ramp of the

Photo ©Greenpeace

Is Trinidad and Tobago preparing to join the International Whaling Commission (IWC), the international organisation that oversees the conservation of whales worldwide? If we do, indications are that we may join some Eastern Caribbean island states, Japan and Norway in the pro-whaling, "sustainable use" lobby.

The issue has arisen following a controversial regional symposium hosted by the T&T Government in March on the "Sustainable Use of Renewable Resources". It is claimed that the symposium was really a one-sided, pro-whaling, Japanese-driven agenda of Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) bashing.

Why would a non-whaling country like Trinidad and Tobago want to join the IWC, anyway? Mark Meredith investigates a tale of whales, agendas and eco-imperialists, food sovereignty and the sustainable use of our living resources.

How do you feel about whales? Do these behemoths of the deep, and their smaller relatives, arouse emotional or romantic responses inside you? Like the welfare of the ancient sea turtles, or fluffy Canadian seal pups? If they do, would this emotion guide your decision-making as to whether they should be harvested? Or would science?

Few, if any, environmental debates arouse passions like the whaling issue.

The question as to whether the IWC's 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling should be lifted-following decades of decimation-is the most contentious aspect.

The IWC is accused by many of becoming a political football manipulated by both the pro-whaling (led by Japan, Norway, Iceland) and anti-whaling lobbies (led by the US, Australia, New Zealand and European countries). Each camp, says the other, has been packing the IWC with like-minded countries to vote their way.

A three-quarters majority vote is required for binding IWC decisions, such as ending the moratorium on commercial whaling. So far the anti-whaling lobby has kept the moratorium in place. However, Japan and Norway, say their critics, openly flout the moratorium under the guise of "scientific research" that allows whales to be hunted for such a purpose. Japan is accused of killing whales to perform a biopsy then selling the meat at inflated prices on the open market back home, stocking Japanese restaurants.

In recent years, some Caribbean islands have been at the centre of a row concerning the alleged buying of votes at the IWC. They are accused of accepting millions of dollars in Japanese fisheries aid in return for voting with Japan and Norway on the IWC.

Six Eastern Caribbean states, (Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and St Kitts and Nevis) voted with Japan in 2000 at the IWC meeting in Adelaide, blocking a move to create a whale sanctuary in the South Pacific.

Dominica's decision led to the resignation of environment minister Atherton Martin in protest.

The pro-whaling, "sustainable use" camp have a mortal enemy, the NGO Greenpeace.

Trinidad and Tobago is listed on a Greenpeace website page that details voting patterns of member IWC countries as "possibly being recruited by Japan to join IWC in return for development assistance".

The Japanese Government website details relations with foreign countries including Trinidad and Tobago. Under the heading "Japan's Economic Cooperation: List of Grant Aid-Exchange of Notes in Fiscal Year 2002" are these figures for T&T: -Grants: 39 million yen (TT$ 2,347,800) -Technical cooperation: 1,776 million yen (TT$106 million approx).

Mr Fleming, in the economic section of the Japanese embassy, couldn't confirm the figures, but told me that aid was used for fisheries-related activities.

Japan funds the Caribbean Fisheries Training Centre in Chaguaramas.

I was directed to talk to Counsellor Tsurita about whaling and aid issues.

Was the figure accurate and was it typical for any given year? Tsurita thought the figure was wrong but couldn't give an exact figure. After checking he estimated that 100 million yen a year over several years might be a more accurate average. Aid took the form of technical assistance for fisheries and fisheries training, including sending people to Japan.

Tsurita explained that Japan supports sustainable use of marine resources, especially being an island nation. He couldn't comment on whether T&T aid was tied in any way to a policy position regarding the IWC.

"My personal opinion is that if Trinidad and Tobago wants to join the IWC they would be very welcome."

The "Sustainable Use of Renewable Resources" (marine and wildlife resources) symposium was funded by ECCO, the Eastern Caribbean Cetacean Commission, themselves funded and trained by Japan.

Official governmental delegations came from Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, St Kitts and Nevis and Suriname. There was a contingent of Japanese "technical people", but they did not contribute to the proceedings.

Caribbean IWC members staunchly defended their pro-whaling position over the two days, saying those engaged in whaling are doing so on a sustainable basis.

St Lucia's Chief Fisheries Officer, Vaughn Charles, said: "We target cetaceans and we use them for the benefit of our coastal communities on a sustainable basis."

Whale watching was deemed an impracticable alternative to generate income as it cost too much for poor coastal communities, up to US$100,000, to purchase the necessary boats.

Larger Caribbean territories such as Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago were urged to join the IWC so that they could have a say in the decision-making processes that affected our regional renewable resources.

However, Ann-Marie Jobity, the T&T Director of Fisheries, delivered a speech saying it was not T&T policy to join the IWC: "For Caribbean countries, it may be argued the focus of whaling is not food security or to satisfy nutritional needs, and only in a few cases is it cultural. Seven CARICOM states are members of the IWC. Donor funding, in particular to the fisheries sector, is linked to this membership and support of a particular position. Aid from proponents for the resumption of commercial whaling may many times compel a country to make decisions that are not in their national interest.

"Trinidad and Tobago is not a whaling country and hence, at this time, we would be interested in the work of the IWC mainly from a conservation standpoint and the promotion of non-consumptive use. Membership of the IWC is therefore not considered a priority at this time. Membership can be revisited if this country has sufficient reason to be concerned that the IWC requires additional support in respect of achieving its mandate."

William Benjamin, adviser to T&T's Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources (Jarette Narine) and Organising Chairman of the symposium, interjected.

Benjamin rebuked the Director of Fisheries: she was a public servant, she had no right to express her personal opinion, just to explain Government policy. And what she said was not policy.

It emerged that Cabinet had given approval for participation in a new project, recommended by the Fisheries Division. It is called the "Scientific basis for ecosystem-based management in the Lesser Antilles including interactions with marine mammals and other top predators".

A senior Fisheries source told me the project would be executed by the United Nations FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation), but that there was no budgetary allocation from Government. Funding would come from Japan. It will involve the technical expertise of the Fisheries Division in sampling methods and modelling approaches. The project will include survey cruises to determine the abundance of marine mammals in our waters.

Benjamin indicated government thinking at the end of the symposium in his closing remarks to the assembled delegates. He received loud applause.

"I recognise the newness of the issues, the new knowledge you have brought to bear. We did not realise the role these resources played in our development, and how these issues could be manipulated by institutions to control our lives and keep us in abject poverty. So now we understand we can develop strategies to allow for our development. From this point there will be no turning back.

"My Minister has told me that from tomorrow morning we are going to take steps to be in a position to participate in international decision-making with respect to use of renewable resources."

What was the knowledge that was brought to bear? How were we being manipulated and kept in abject poverty?

I interviewed Benjamin in his St Clair office.

I asked about the apparent differences in opinion between him and his Director of Fisheries, Jobity.

"She has her own policy on whaling," he said.

She is your technical director who presented something prepared by her technical staff.

"The technical staff of the ministry are supposed to carry out government policy. She came to the conference and she was the person who started with this anti-whaling this, and whaling that."

This is your Director of Fisheries you are talking about.

"Yes. I intervened and said no, these are your personal opinions. I said that because I knew Cabinet took a decision to involve what we call the ecosystem approach to the management of our fisheries, the study of all species. We look at the total ecosystem. We have to look at the top predators and the last organism in the food chain."

Does the government believe in the resumption of commercial whaling, and do you think we should be involved in it? I asked.

"Decisions concerning the utilisation of our marine resources should be based on sound scientific information. If the information indicates commercial whaling will be resumed, then let it be. This is food for some people."

Very few, surely.

"No, that's not true. Look at the people of South East Asia, the Japanese, the Taiwanese. They are people too. Their culture is to consume all types of marine resource.

"Very few of us in the Caribbean utilise whale meat as food, but those who choose to do that, if it's their culture, they must be free to do so, once the resources placed here by God can be used in a sustainable manner.

"These decisions cannot be based on your emotions, or the Director of Fisheries' emotions," he continued. "They must be based on the scientific evidence. That was one objective of the symposium. Science and technology must inform decisions we make and not the emotions of other people prodding you.

"You know what prompted this symposium? The utilisation of our resources, part-

ularly food security."

Isn't over-fishing and marine pollution a greater threat to fish stocks than whales? I argued.

"You cannot just sit there and say these are far greater threats. When you bring the evidence to the table we can analyse it," he countered.

"Those are valid arguments, but people have been going overboard in an unscientific way. People will tell you some species are endangered when in fact they are not. These people have an agenda. They are not forthcoming with the truth; the argument is very skewed to support the agenda of choice.

"People are saying we must not use our resources at all. Protectionism against conservation. Thirty years ago, the same people who banned whaling were decimating the whale population of the world to supply factories with oil and grease and to put light in street lamps. Then they discovered petroleum, they decide, okay, let us put the ban on whales. They telling Third World people not to use these resources as food. They were concerned about their Industrial Revolution."

Aren't we going rather a long way back into history?

"Mr Meredith, we here to talk about that fact that the same people who decimated the whale, put the ban on whale oblivious to those people who use those resources as food. After 20 years the IWC has become a political instrument, and it is telling the world that the whale population is still endangered. Other researchers are telling us no, that some species of whales are recovered and allow for sustainable use."

Do we need whaling in the Caribbean?

"It's a big open sea; an environment that have all the marine resources in there. If we are to manage our fisheries in a sustainable manner then we have to take into account the impact of the whales on our fisheries.

"The Government of Trinidad and Tobago, and the Cabinet, has taken a decision to investigate that. We must investigate the impacts of whales on our fisheries resources."

How much fish are whales eating?

"The information will come when it come."

Are you going to make a decision on joining the IWC before the IWC annual meeting in July?

"I don't make that decision."

You are adviser to the Minister. I thought you might know.

"The Minister doesn't make decisions, Cabinet does."

Is it correct to say there's no chance of the Government signing up to the IWC before proper studies are made on the impacts of whales on our fisheries?

"Cabinet could decide maybe they already have enough information."

Do we have enough information?

"I don't know. Maybe, since I know that whales would impact on our fisheries population-could impact-once the population is large enough. Since it is well recognised that the IWC makes decisions that impact our fisheries and the food security of many Third World countries, then perhaps we as a country would want to participate in that decision-making. It would probably not affect us, our food security, but other Third World brothers and sisters. We must be concerned at their welfare and be there to support them."

So the view is definitely to join the IWC...?

Interrupting: "And all other organisations that take decisions with respect to the utilisation of marine resources."

Click here to read Mark Meredith’s next article in his series investigating Caribbean whaling.