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When age old traditions clash with changing global attitudes

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If St Vincent and the Grenadines did not realize before just how tiny the world has become, we found out over the last week or so.

And our whalers may just have played into the hands of the anti-whaling lobby, when even after a tour guide motioned for them to leave a pod of orcas (killer whales) alone, they persisted and killed two of the mammals in plain sight of two boatloads of tourists. (l See story on page 24)

With their recklessness and some may even say greed, the whalers brought about a clash between age old traditions and changing global attitudes resulting in a significantly narrowed sphere within which they must now operate.

St Vincent and the Grenadines has signed on to international agreements which prohibit the killing of orcas and dolphins, and while local officials, though not approving, may have turned a blind eye to a whaler occasionally bringing in one of these prohibited mammals, not responding to the brazen display that took place last week would have been a completely different story.

The Government of St Vincent and the Grenadines must be commended for its agility in responding to the situation by announcing that legislation will be brought in short order to outlaw the capture and killing of orcas and dolphins.

But faced with a quickly growing anti-whaling lobby, even among locals, the added pressure of the international scrutiny after last week’s kill and the threat it poses to our tourism, our Government had no choice.

Traditions notwithstanding, we believe that the new legislation will be welcomed by most reasonable Vincentians. The attitudes of locals are changing and whereas 20 years ago the majority of people may have been in favour of there being no restrictions on the exercise of our whaling tradition, we are not so sure that a poll carried out today would return the same result.

We must however balance changing attitudes against genuine subsistence whaling and the importance of the traditional black fish industry to the town of Barrouallie.

In a 2015, a Barrouallie whaler told SEARCHLIGHT that the only time his community comes alive is when black fish or orcas are caught. He shared with us then that more than 100 people are employed when the boats make a catch and that the industry provides a means for many people in his community to make an honest living.

Reasonableness must therefore prevail. There is no restriction on the capture and killing of the pilot whale (black fish), so we should exercise discipline and stick to this species, in the same way that the Bequia whalers are expected to stay within the quota of four humpback whales a year, permitted by the International Whaling Commission.

Our country justifies the hunting of the pilot whale and the limited hump back catches as subsistence hunting, and while this may continue for now, the writing is on the wall for the whaling in general, even within these restrictions.

Education and public awareness campaigns must therefore be stepped up, mainly in the communities directly involved, in order to ensure that fishers operate within the law, but also to lay the ground work for the pursuit of alternative livelihoods by those involved.

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