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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Carribean Nations Selling out Whales to Japan?

Air Date: Week of

Next week, in the middle eastern nation of Oman, the International Whaling Commission holds its fiftieth annual meeting. And like most gatherings of this organization this one is expected to be controversial. On the agenda: a showdown between countries that want to resume commercial whaling, and those that want to strengthen a world-wide ban on whale hunting that's been in force since 1982. At the heart of this deadlock is an alliance between the whaling nations of Japan and Norway, and a half dozen tiny island countries, most of them in the Caribbean. The glue for this compact may well be cash. There are allegations that in exchange for foreign aid, the island nations are supporting Japan's agenda at the International Whaling Commission. John Rudolph has our report.


CURWOOD: Next week, in the Middle Eastern nation of Oman, the International Whaling Commission holds its 50th annual meeting. And like most gatherings of this organization, this one is expected to be controversial. On the agenda: a showdown between countries that want to resume commercial whaling and those who want to strengthen a worldwide ban on whale hunting that's been enforced since 1982. At the heart of this deadlock is an unusual alliance between the whaling nations of Japan and Norway and a half dozen tiny island countries, most of them in the Caribbean. The glue for this compact may well be cash. There are allegations that in exchange for foreign aid, the island nations are supporting Japan's agenda at the International Whaling Commission. John Rudolph has our report.

(Boat horns, a diesel engine runs)

RUDOLPH: Sunday afternoon off the tip of Cape Code, Massachusetts. Calm seas, a light wind, and a slate gray sky make this a perfect day for whale watching.

WOMAN: (on speaker) I want you to look at the right side of that finback; I want you to keep an eye on him. If you can see the white patch on the right jaw while we're down there, you can't see that on the left jaw.

RUDOLPH: Soon after the boat eases into whale feeding grounds, passengers catch sight of huge tails, fins, and spouts breaking the emerald green water.

(People whooping)

WOMAN: Oh! Fantastic! Wow! One o'clock, a humpback came right out.

RUDOLPH: Among the passengers is Daniel Morast. He heads the International Wildlife Coalition, a group that promotes whale watching as an alternative to whale hunting. In 1980, when Mr. Morast first began attending meetings of the International Whaling Commission, or IWC, boats from more than a dozen nations were killing thousands of whales each year. Many scientists warned that without a moratorium on commercial whaling, some whale species would soon be extinct. The warning sparked a campaign by the US government and conservation groups to bring new members into the IWC. Among the nations recruited in the early 1980s were several from the Caribbean: St. Vincent, St. Lucia, Antigua, and others. Their votes helped the moratorium squeak through in 1982. But then a few years later, Daniel Morast says, he began to notice a change.

MORAST: It was some time around 1985 that I noticed the two active members from the Caribbean in the International Whaling Commission, St. Vincent and St. Lucia, suddenly switched and started voting for and arguing for Japanese whaling quotas, etc.

RUDOLPH: Over the next few years, Mr. Morast says, other small island nations began siding with Japan and Norway, two nations with active whaling industries vigorously opposed to the moratorium.

MORAST: And this was particularly important, because Japan and Norway had been isolated in this 35-member nation country of the Whaling Commission. So, if you would suddenly have five or six member countries arguing your positions or voting to defeat resolutions against Japan and Norway, well, it made quite a difference.

RUDOLPH: Of the half-dozen or so island nations that joined the International Whaling Commission in the late 80s and early 90s, only one, St. Vincent, has its own tiny whaling industry. So why do these countries regularly attend IWC meetings and advocate pro-whaling positions? Many people suspect a deal with Japan.

TILLMAN: These countries are recipients of various kinds of aid from Japan, port facilities, fishing assistance, missions in regards fishing; so it's from that sector of the Japanese government.

RUDOLPH: Dr. Michael Tillman of the National Marine Fisheries Service represents the United States at the International Whaling Commission.

TILLMAN: It's fairly evident in the voting records of these countries that in issue after issue, that they are voting with their Japanese counterparts. And also, one sees other behaviors where well-known Japanese lobbyists who have been to the IWC for many, many years are now seen with these delegations and, well, if not instructing them, then at least influencing how they view issues.

RUDOLPH: But Japan is not alone. Nor was it the first to try to make friends and influence votes on the IWC. Dr. Tillman and others claim that in the years just before the vote on the worldwide moratorium, conservation groups paid some small island nations to join the Commission.

TILLMAN: There was what we called "common knowledge," quote unquote, that a number of countries joined and that their dues and the travel support was reportedly due to conservation groups providing it. So that, in a sense, one could say that the conservation groups set out a strategy that the Japanese copied.

RUDOLPH: Conservation groups including the World Wildlife Fund, the Humane Society of the US, and Greenpeace, admit that they actively encouraged many countries, including the island nations, to join the IWC. But these groups emphatically denied that money was involved. Anti-whaling advocates also point out that even if some countries did receive funds from conservation groups, it was a minuscule amount compared with the millions of dollars in foreign aid Japan has poured into the Caribbean.

Documenting these widely-suspected relationships is difficult. But Living on Earth recently spoke with someone who claims to have firsthand knowledge of Japan's attempt to strike a deal with the Caribbean nation of Antigua and Barbuda. The year was 1994. At the time, Sean White was the head of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, a British environmental group. Mr. White was on a trip to Antigua, an old ally in the fight against commercial whaling. During his brief visit, he got an unexpected invitation. Antigua's commissioner to the IWC, John Fuller, was going to meet with representatives of Japan. Mr. Fuller asked Sean White to come along.

WHITE: The meeting took place in the office of Mr. Fuller there in Antigua, and there was himself, two Japanese gentlemen, and myself. And I was introduced as an advisor. During the course of the meeting, there was an exchange of pleasantries. But my best recollection was that the Japanese gentlemen were really inquiring as to what they could offer the government of Antigua in order to secure a favorable vote, i.e., supporting them at the International Whaling Commission. And I certainly recall Mr. Fuller directly asking that question: were they hoping to get in exchange for whatever aid they provided, were they hoping to get this vote? And they certainly indicated yes, that that was it. That really was what the meeting was all about.

RUDOLPH: A former official of the Antiguan government, who asked to remain anonymous, confirmed Sean White's story. The 1994 meeting on Antigua came at a critical time for Japan. Later that same year, the International Whaling Commission was scheduled to vote on a plan directly aimed at curbing whaling in the seas around Antarctica, one of Japan's primary whaling grounds. The measure was ultimately approved over Japan's strenuous objections. Antigua was among those voting for the plan, apparently having turned down the Japanese offer. But a year later, Antigua's IWC commissioner, John Fuller, was fired. His successor, Davon Joseph, strongly supports Japanese proposals to expand whaling. And this month Antigua will break ground on a new, $12- million fisheries and transportation complex, paid for with funds from Japan. Mr. Joseph denies any link between his country's change in policy and Japanese foreign aid.

JOSEPH: My government has never been given conditions that our assistance from Japan is tied on the question of we supporting them at the IWC. And I want to make it clear that our position in the IWC is an independent position that can stand on its own, whether or not we are getting assistance from Japan. Those two issues must be separated.

RUDOLPH: Mr. Joseph says Antigua changed its position because scientific evidence presented to the IWC showed that certain whale species have rebounded during the moratorium. He argues that with proper management, these whales can now be hunted without the threat of extinction. Mr. Joseph also notes another significant change. The US, once a major source of aid to the Caribbean, has sharply cut assistance to the region. Aid from Japan has increased.

JOSEPH: And we are now getting the type of assistance for infrastructure that we think is important to enhance our fisheries industry, and it is only fair that we continue to strengthen our relationship with Japan, and for that matter other countries, that are interested in working in partnership with us to develop our marine resources.

RUDOLPH: US officials acknowledge that a sharp drop in US foreign aid has made it easier for Japan to cultivate allies in the Caribbean. But a spokesman for the Japanese government denies Japan uses foreign aid to buy influence on the International Whaling Commission. Shingo Ota is in charge of fisheries and whaling issues at the Japanese Embassy in Washington.

OTA: I, let's say there is no direct linkage between our assistance and whaling policy, and we provide assistance to those countries because there is a need for those assistances.

RUDOLPH: Still, the fragile balance of power on the International Whaling Commission worries those who would like to see additional restrictions placed on Japanese whaling. Currently, Japan catches more than 500 minke whales each year for scientific purposes. Michael Tillman of the US National Marine Fisheries Service says scientific whaling on this scale is really commercial whaling in disguise. But he says the US can't stop the hunts because of Japan's alliance with Norway and several small island nations.

TILLMAN: We can complain. We can do so through what we call resolutions, which take issue with anything like that. But to muster a three-quarters majority vote to change this provision, or amend it in some way, just isn't there.

(A boat cutting through water; a crowd)

WOMAN: Look, there's [inaudible]. There's some way out there, too.

RUDOLPH: Most people on whale-watching trips are unaware of the ongoing deadlock at the International Whaling Commission. But the stalemate could be broken if Japan succeeds in changing the rules that govern the Commission. Right now, IWC voting is conducted in public. But Japan and its Caribbean allies want the Commission to adopt the secret ballot. Japan says voting in secret will protect small island states from undue pressure by conservation groups. But US officials and other critics of Japan suspect a different motive. They say the secret ballot is really about Japan's desire to conceal its alliances in the Caribbean and other parts of the world. For Living on Earth, this is John Rudolph.

WOMAN: (on speaker) And I believe that's a mother and calf out there, further at 1 o'clock, and a finback whale at 11 o'clock. Third species of the day here.

WOMAN 2: It's right there!



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