Science & Environment

Indigenous whaling bids granted after 'racism' claim

Humpback whale and calf
Image caption The vote to renew whaling quotas may have gone differently had nations not applied as a bloc

Whaling quotas for indigenous groups in Alaska, Russia and the Caribbean were renewed at the International Whaling Commission (IWC) annual meeting.

The vote came despite questions over whether the bid from St Vincent and the Grenadines qualified under IWC rules.

A bid for similar quotas in Greenland has yet to be debated.

Aboriginal subsistence whaling (ASW) is allowed if indigenous peoples have a "nutritional and cultural need" and there is no danger to whale stocks.

The debate saw heated exchanges involving an allegation from the St Kitts and Nevis delegate, Daven Joseph, that the mainly Latin American countries seeking to block the bid were "bordering on racism".

"Small nations are being singled out," he said.

"If [St Vincent and the Grenadines] are hunting for four humpback whales each year from a population of 10,000, who gives the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Chile or Costa Rica the right to tell St Vincent how to use the whales?"

But others said that the bid should not qualify under ASW rules because the Bequians, the group that maintains the hunt, are not truly indigenous.

Whaling "started by a settler's family as recently as a 1875 does not qualify as 'aboriginal'," argued Monaco's Frederic Briand.

"So we may ask a fundamental question - is there a justification for further approval of this quota?"

Louise Mitchell Joseph, speaking on behalf of the Eastern Caribbean Coalition of Environmental Awareness, said there was no documented history of whaling in the islands.

"There have been many archaeological excavations conducted, and there was no evidence found whatsoever of whale hunting by aboriginal peoples," she said.

"Neither whale remains nor weapons that could have been used to kill such a large mammals were ever found; neither are any images of whales inscribed on our petroglyphs."

Success in triplicate

Peter Sanchez, speaking for the Dominican Republic, said the hunt was "artisanal whaling out of control".

"[The hunters have] repeatedly broken the rules - hunting for young ones and pregnant females," he said.

Image caption At issue is for how long - or even if - aboriginal peoples have hunted whales

"We recognise the needs of indigenous peoples in the US and Russia but we cannot support the [joint] request by all three countries."

A number of delegations clearly felt the same way, clarifying that they would have voted against the St Vincent hunt if the three nations had presented their bids separately.

But with the vote overwhelmingly in favour by a margin of 48 to 10, it was evident that few had the will to force the joint resolution into its component parts.

Governments have to apply for ASW quotas every five years, though the current batch may last for six if, as anticipated, IWC members decide in future to hold their meetings every two years.

The vote means that Alaskan Inupiat retain their quota of 56 bowhead whales each year.

Guide to the great whales

Russian indigenous peoples in Chukotka in eastern Siberia will continue to hunt 120 gray whales annually, while the Bequians retain their annual right to four humpbacks.

A separate resolution submitted by Denmark on behalf of Greenland is requesting an expansion of the quotas currently enjoyed by Inuit communities, enhancing the take of humpback and fin whales on the grounds that people need more whalemeat.

But some nations, including other EU members, are concerned by a recent report that found whalemeat on sale to tourists, raising questions over whether the Greenlanders really need quotas as large as those they currently have.

The EU is supposed to maintain a united front in forums such as the IWC, and a joint position is being agreed back in Brussels, with a decision anticipated on Wednesday.

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