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OECS on right track in respect of whaling

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Daven Joseph Tue, Jul 3. 2012

The International Whaling Commission convened its annual meeting yesterday in Panama. Several OECS countries, including St Vincent and the Grenadines, Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada, St Kitts and Nevis and St Lucia, are in attendance. This year’s meeting is a very important one for the Caribbean because St Vincent and the Grenadines’ quota of four humpback whales will be up for renewal at this meeting. Other countries, including the USA, Russia and Denmark, will also be requesting approval from the commission for their annual quota of whales.{{more}} Approval of these quotas requires a three-quarter majority vote of the commission. Commissioners are expected to be guided by their national policies with respect to whaling, and by the scientific advice provided by the IWC scientific committee.

St Vincent and the Grenadines’ requests have never been denied, even though a number of international NGOs, with the support of some individuals from the Caribbean, wage their anti-whaling campaign in an effort to deny St Vincent its small quota of four whales.

The anti-whaling campaign normally involves a number of disgraceful tactics, including the payment of local individuals to sign their names to articles and letters that are published in the local and regional media, threat of tourism boycott, harassment of Commissioners and accusation of vote buying and selling by those countries that support sustainable whaling.

These organizations and individuals, in pursuit of their own selfish and misinformed agenda, fail to respect the fact that under international law, countries have the right to harvest all marine resources in a sustainable manner, and that St Vincent and the Grenadines has a sovereign right to harvest whales that are found in its waters, as long as it conforms with international laws and its own fisheries legislation.

One might notice that those who oppose whaling never base their reasons for their opposition on any scientific fact about whether or not the whales are endangered or if the action of

St Vincent violates any international agreements. Instead their arguments are always very emotional and discriminatory and reflect gruesome contempt for St Vincent and the Grenadines and for other pro-whaling nations.

Cases in point are recently published articles, by notable Caribbean personalities such as Sir Ronald Sanders, Mr Tony Astaphan and Ms Louise Mitchell Joseph, that seem to suggest that Caribbean governments’ support for sustainable whaling have no economic, social or cultural basis. They join with their international operatives in falsely accusing our governments, our diplomats and our Commissioners of sinister practices, including the selling of our votes to Japan in exchange for grant aid assistance. These individuals cannot pretend to be ignorant of international relations and the fact that countries always pursue their national interest in any international corporation agreements and that our relationship with all countries, including the United States, Europe and also Japan, must be based on this principle.

These false allegations have complicated Caribbean politics relating to the support for the whaling. The reality is that many OECS countries have utilized cetacean resources as a source of food. Currently, several states, including Dominica, St Lucia, St Vincent and Grenada, continue to utilize these marine resources as an important component of food from the oceans. The use of whales and porpoises contribute to national food security, cultural preservation and sustainable livelihoods.

The use of all marine fisheries, including whales, is undertaken within the framework of strict international standards that are scientifically based. For instance, all whales and other marine mammals that are harvested in the region are taken within the strict provisions of IWC guidelines and the guidelines of other competent national, regional and international organizations.

It is within such arrangements that St Vincent and Grenadines undertakes its whale hunt and are provided a quota of four whales per year from a whale population that consists of more than ten thousand animals.

All scientific evidence indicates that this population of whales from which this quota is derived is significantly abundant and that the taking of four animals per year does not present a threat to the survival of that population.

The taking of 4 whales per year from this large population is likened to a farmer having a herd of 10,000 cows, who only sells or slaughters four per year. This herd would continue to increase without any notice of that small number which has been taken from the herd. If this is not a reasonable proposition, then what else could be?

What then are the issues of concern for those who oppose sustainable whaling? Most of the Caribbean anti-whaling enthusiasts try to convince the public that the support of whaling will bring European and white American disgrace on our Caribbean and hence will significantly damage our tourism, this is simply not true. OECS countries have been supporting whaling for more than thirty years and during this time, there is absolutely no evidence that this position has adversely impacted on our tourism. On the contrary, Dominica accepted the ill advice of the anti whaling lobby and suspended its participation in the annual meetings of the International Whaling Commission, with promises that it would experience a revolutionary increase in its tourist arrivals. After almost four years, Dominica has seen no such increase in tourist arrivals, and is still lagging behind its other OECS partners as far growth in tourism is concerned.

What then are the basis of the arguments of these animal rights groups and their Caribbean cohorts? Their criticism and assertions are directly related to their own fundraising and fund gathering activities. They neither care or are willing to understand the actual reasons for the sustainable whaling policies of successive governments in the OECS countries.

Their positions on the issue of whaling and also the sustainable use of other marine resources directly contradict each other. In addition, the sustainable use of other resources directly contradicts this as well. Finally, there is a direct contradiction between the sustainable use of other marine resources and the fundamental principles related to good governance, the management of food security and respect for cultural diversity.

Their supporting views against the sustainable use of all marine resources is unpatriotic and ignores the fact that to single out whales for global protection as against all other marine species is unnecessary for marine resource conservation and is a direct threat to national fisheries (and hence food security), marine transportation (including of the cruise ship industry) and other maritime activities and industries in the Caribbean.

Fisheries are a fundamental resource for countries that are surrounded by the sea. Within Antigua and Barbuda, St Vincent and the Grenadines and the other OECS countries, fish products provide a healthy and secure source of food, a regular livelihood for several persons and a significant contribution to national GDP.

It is therefore in the interest of all OECS countries to ensure that marine resources are managed in a responsible manner. This means recognizing the role that fisheries play in our society and the many families that depend on the harvesting of marine resources, including whales as a means of sustainable livelihoods, and also the need to ensure that these resources are protected from over exploitation.

The emotional arguments, such as those offered by the anti-whaling movement, should never be the basis to determine public policy over the management and use of whales. Instead public policy must be established on the basis of sound scientific information about the nature and abundance of the whales, the benefits of their use to our national and regional communities and other international considerations.

OECS countries must therefore play an active role in international fora in order to defend their fisheries interest and the principles of science based resource management and sustainable use. In these international fora, St Vincent and the Grenadines’s vote counts the same as that of the USA, the UK and France. This vote is indicative of our right to self-determination and must be undertaken with integrity and in promotion of our own national interest.

To suggest that our position on this issue only serves the interest of Japan shows a lack of knowledge of international relations on the part of the Caribbean critics and a deliberate attempt to mislead. The OECS countries’ position on whaling at the International Whaling Commission deserves more respect and credit, because it is of sound basis and one that can withstand the scrutiny of international law.

In the OECS region, we have a history of fighting for our rights; we have a strong sense of what is right and wrong; we do not need foreign government and groups, with their own self interests, to advise us on these principles.

Modern whaling is about culture and social justice, the right of a people to pursue their livelihood. It is therefore unfortunate that, in pursuing their anti-whaling campaign, these Environmental NGO’s and their supporters in SVG are attempting to deny Caribbean countries of these rights in pursuance of their own selfish agenda.

On the contrary, coastal states, including those of the Caribbean, have an interest in the sustainable use of all marine resources. No one kills whales for the sake of killing them. Instead, several coastal States, including the USA, Russia, North and South Korea, Canada, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, the Philippines and St Vincent and the Grenadines, depend to some extent on whales for food.

St Vincent and the Grenadines has the right, under international law, to harvest all living marine resources in a sustainable manner and have been doing so for several decades. All OECS countries enjoy those same rights and privileges.

St Vincent and the Grenadines should consider itself a very proud nation; it has led the Caribbean on a very important and fundamental principle of resistance to the imposition of cultural changes relating to the use of its marine resources. This country has stood firm in exercising its sovereign right to the sustainable harvesting of its marine resources for the benefits of its people, in spite of unlawful international interference.

St Vincent and the Grenadines has had a longstanding whaling policy, spanning as many as three decades, which has been upheld by successive administrations. The whaling policy protects the right of Vincentians to determine how best to utilize their marine resources.

The wisdom of Sir James Mitchell and that of Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves has served to ensure the maintenance of a very pragmatic science-based policy that has taken into consideration: food security, sustainable livelihoods for the fishing community and the rule of international law.

These men have shown themselves to be staunch vanguards of the rights of St Vincent and the Grenadines to pursue international treaty agreements within the best interest of their country in spite of national and international irritations. They are very cognizant of the sovereignty of countries to pressure their national interests through bilateral and multilateral negotiations. Receiving grant aid from rich countries such as Japan, USA, Norway and the European Union is an acceptable norm; all these countries in turn seek support from our countries on matters at the United Nations and other international organizations where each country has only one vote. Why then should our collaboration with Japan at the IWC be construed as vote selling? It is clear that those who perpetuate this notion are deliberately spreading false and destabilizing information.

Sir James Mitchell, the late Sir John Compton and Dame Eugenia Charles understood the political nature of the whaling issue and the importance of the Caribbean relationship with Japan. Hon. Prime Ministers Ralph Gonsalves, Kenny Anthony, Baldwin Spencer, Denzel Douglas and Tillman Thomas are all aware of the very important principles of international relations.

The region must face the honest truth of the politics of whales, as it is no different to other issues of strategic importance to us as a people. Whales have already been saved from the wanton exploitation by developed countries. Why should St Vincent and the Grenadines support the exclusion of whales as a food resource, when the species that are being harvested are neither threatened or endangered? When Europe and America depended on whale oil to light their homes and streets during the last two centuries, it was quite acceptable to kill just for their oils. Now that whale oil no longer has any economic value, we are told that they should not be harvested, even though many coastal communities depend on whales for food. This pattern of behaviour by Europeans and their Caribbean cohorts is quite familiar. What if India becomes a superpower and begins to promote the sacredness of the cow and launches a campaign for the banning of all beef products, including hamburgers and steaks? This would signal the beginning of the World War III.

Daven Joseph is a former commissioner to the IWC.

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