The International Whaling Commission (IWC) is the international institution responsible for the management of whale species in the world's oceans.
As the institutional arm of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (1946), it was originally designed as an international institution to coordinate commercial whaling management practices of states with whaling interests.
Over the years, the IWC institutional mandate has evolved to include the scientific study of small cetaceans. The addition of another policy focus to the IWC agenda is not without criticism. Some member states question its legal basis and claim that the study and management of small cetaceans exceeds the bounds of the original treaty. On the other hand, institutional evolution is not without precedent. One need look no further than the combined histories of the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance (NATO), and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), two parallel post-war institutions in the security and economic areas, to observe additional examples.
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While the IWC has expanded it focus, member states still work on commercial whaling issues. There is a separate debate as to whether member states should promote any commercial whaling. A discussion of its merits is left for another article. This article discusses current IWC commercial whaling activity.
Aggressive exploitation of whale stocks in the immediate Post-WWII era led to dramatic declines of great whale species populations. In 1986 member states voted to pause commercial whaling, i.e., place 0 catch limits on all the great whale species, until a proper scientific consensus could be reached about sustainable commercial whaling practices.
In the past twenty years, member states have developed The Revised Management Procedure (RMP) and the Revised Management Scheme (RMS) as their dual commercial whale management tools.
The RMP deals with whale population management. The science of whale population estimates is far from exact, given the fact that whales spend the majority of their lives under water and out of site of human observation. The scientific model for the RMP is technically called a Catch Limit Algorithm.
For math enthusiasts, algorithms are the mathematical forms of common workplace applications such as flow charts and decision trees. Generally speaking, algorithms solve problems by moving data through a series of mathematical equations that determine the data's next step in the flow of things. In practical whaling terms, the CLA moves the statistical version of whale populations through a series of filters to determine how many of these statistical whales might flow to a commercial whaling end point under a specific set of conditions. CLAs do this using various scenarios based on historical evidence and hypothesis of future trends.
Any algorithm can be improved by either improving the data that flows through it or improving the equations the data flows through. IWC member states, generally accepted the CLA approach because of its conservative approach to population management. Since 1992 member states have worked to improve the data used in the CLA and improve the statistical equations contained therein. There is little disagreement over its use as a whale fishery management tool.
Future considerations of a return to commercial whaling now depends on member states agreeing on the RMS, the portion of commercial whale management that deals with the industry side of the practice. If and when commercial whaling resumes, how can member states verify that commercial whalers actually following the rules of the game? Member states concerns with the issue are based in the long history of the commercial overexploitation of whale stocks for short term gains. They seek verifiable means of assurance that both member and nonmember states have little incentive to either abet or turn a blind eye to commercial whalers who either operate in illegal waters or exceed set catch limits for short term commercial gain.
Concerns expressed by RMS supporters have validity. It is arguable that all whaling actors, state, industry and environmental, act within a culture of excess. Justification for such a broad brush statement might start with a recitation of the long and aggressive history of the whaling industry's exploitation of whale stocks. Justification might end with a shorter, but equally aggressive history of the anti-whaling faction. For example, conflict on the high seas between whaling and anti-whaling actors often makes headlines.
Less dramatic examples of a limit testing culture among the actors can be found on the ground. For example, a recent Report of the Finance and Administration Committee explains how IWC member states occasionally revisit their rules of procedure regarding the activities of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) during IWC meetings. Organizations with whaling interests have been invited to attend meetings provided they met certain criteria, with one criteria being the organization in question having offices in four different states.
It did not take long for the NGO community to discover loopholes in the admission provision in order to attend or increase their presence at meetings. One comment in the document (p.24) states,
"Personal communication with one of the large environmental NGOs suggests that there are some 30 'flag of convenience' organizations for conservation/welfare groups and around 15 for pro-whaling groups."
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© 2013. Patricia A. Michaels