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A Proposal on the Whaling Controversy and Marine Resources Issues -- Hiroyuki Matsuda

A Proposal on the Whaling Controversy and Marine Resources Issues


Associate Professor

The University of Tokyo

Ocean Research Institute

Anti-whaling opinions have increased internationally, and the International Whaling Commission (IWC) passed a moratorium on commercial whaling, except for scientific whaling, in 1982. Following this decision, whaling nations such as Japan that emphasize restarting commercial whaling have disputed with anti-whaling nations over whaling, based on data on the biomass of whales. There will be a general convention of the IWC in Shimonoseki, Japan, in 2002, and the dispute over whaling is expected to be animated. In this article, we would like to think about and discuss the scientific controversy over environmental issues, using the whaling controversy as an example.

Most of those in Europe and the U.S. who oppose whaling do not know that there are a sufficient number of minke whales in the world, and that they can be used sustainably.

According to "Sustainable Use of Hawksbill Turtles: Contemporary Issues in Conservation" written by N. Mrosovsky, 80 % of the respondents surveyed, who were general public in the U.S., said that some whale species had become extinct in modern times. However, the fact is that although Atlantic gray whales became extinct in the 17th century, no other whales have become extinct in the centuries since. When asked to approximate the population size of minke whales, more than 60% of the respondents thought that there were fewer than 10,000 whales. In another question, the respondents were informed that there were one million mink whales in the world, and were asked if they supported the harvest of minke whales for food. Seventy-percent of the respondents said yes. These results indicate the respondents opposed whaling simply because they misunderstood that all whales are in danger of extinction.

Feedback Management Needed for Sustainable Use

The Scientific Committee of the IWC estimates that there were 510,000 to 1,140,000 minke whales (760,000 in point estimation) in the Southern Hemisphere in the 1980s.

Scientists in anti-whaling nations also agreed with this estimation. As shown in the figure, the number of whales in total is decreasing, while the number of minke whales seems to be increasing, following the total ban on commercial whaling.

After considering various possibilities to avoid excessive whaling, the Scientific Committee of the IWC decided that the number of whales that can be harvested annually is 2000.

This number is to be continuously revised based on the estimated number of whales. This method is called the Revised Management Procedure (RMP). If the monitoring of whales and revision of their fishable numbers are done properly, we can sustainably use whales and other marine and terrestrial animals and plants, and still maintain ecosystem integrity within the natural world.

Feedback control is regarded as a basic tool in the management of terrestrial and marine ecosystem that is uncertain and unstable.

Even if the fact that whales are macrobiotic and have a low rate of natural increase is taken into consideration, 2,000 among several hundred thousand minke whales is quite few, compared with the amount harvested of other fisheries.

If we continue to fish in such a modest way, we won't have enough food to support the human population.

The main position of environmental groups that oppose commercial whaling is that we should take precautionary measures, because the estimated number of whales is uncertain.

This is probably just an excuse for opposition, and there may be another real intention. However, whether whaling is absolutely safe or not is still in dispute. The fact that it is impossible to get rid of all the risks is not clearly understood by the opposing side.

For example, even the Japanese government downplays the risks and emphasizes only the safety of nuclear power plants. In a 21st century-styled consensus, risk communication is needed, which consists of bringing about a settlement after thoroughly examining to what extent the risks exist.

The problem is not whether risks still remain; what is important is that they not be underestimated.

The number of sika deer in Hokkaido, in northern Japan, is increasing now. If we ignore this problem, there is a danger that the deer may destroy the ecosystem. There have already been agricultural and forestry damage of 40 millions of dollars).

However, the size of the sika deer population is as uncertain as the size of the minke whale population. An emergency measure is to be taken until the number of sika deer is reduced by half, but the damage will never go away as long as the deer exist.

An environmental group criticizes such management, saying if the damage never goes away, there is no meaning to management.

In the management of sika deer, the population is continuously monitored. If the number is reduced by half, the number of deer that can be caught is to be limited.

With regards to the conservation of southern bluefin tunas, the uncertainty of their biomass has been taken under consideration, with good reason. The probability that southern bluefin tunas is depleted after one century if we continue to catch the same amount every year is evaluated. However, if the actual biomass is much higher than the estimated one, the resource would increase exponentially, while the resource may be depleted if the number is much lower than estimated.

This means the management method being used is not suitable. If we continue to monitor the population and control fishing in accordance with the biomass, the risk of stock depletion will be much lower.

The important thing is to decide in advance what measures we should take when the biomass actually decreases.

The Background of the Controversy over Commercial Whaling

In the background of the conflict over whaling, there lies a lack of knowledge on the present state of whales, as well as differences in points of view and customs. Furthermore, financial interests and diplomatic strategy also affect the debate.

According to "Chikyu-kankyo Mondai Towa Nanika (What are environmental issues?)" (Shouhei Yonemoto 1994. Iwanami Shoten, Publishers.), environmental issues became the tool for diplomacy to compensate the end of conflict between East and West.

Europe suffered from the acid-rain issue beyond its borders. However, the U.S. and Russia started to focus on treaties against global warming with the end of the Cold War. This may be related to financial concerns to bolster a military and industrial complex that had become too large.

This book introduces readers to the fact that the scientists who deal with environmental issues have much more modest intentions in their original papers, compared to their remarks as quoted in newspaper articles. This book shows how environmental issues have been utilized for games of diplomacy, without sufficient scientific evidence being brought to bear on the decisions made.

The problem of politics and concession has also affected whaling issues. According to "Doubutsu Hogo Undo no Kyozou -- Sono Genryu to Shin no Nerai (The virtual image of animal conservation movements - its origin and real intension)" (Yoshito Umezaki 2000. Seizando Shoten Publishing Co., Ltd.), the brain oil of a sperm whale used to be valued as a high-grade grease. However, when oil companies developed grease of a lesser quality made from oil, whales became an obstacle for the oil companies' business.

Oil companies sparked great controversy against whaling in the US, due to these circumstances.

"Kujira no Seitai (Whale Ecology)" (Fujio Kasamatsu 2000. Kouseisha Kouseikaku K. K.) cogently explains current scientific research on whaling.

Arguments on whaling are sometimes presented in a distrustful and accusatory way. But this book is based on the reality of international research on whales, in relation with the activities of the IWC. For this reason, I highly recommend this book.

As the author explains, it has recently been proven that the amount of food ingested by whales far exceeds the fish catches of the entire world.

Most of the whales' food consists of krill, pelagic fish such as sardine and anchovy, and squid living in the meso-bathypelagic zone. In my opinion, most of the sardines around Japan that minke whales in the north Pacific eat are not fished.

Thus, minke whales and human beings do not compete over anchovy.

This paradoxically means there are still abundant fish resources that human beings haven't yet utilized.

The majority of fish species are said to be fished excessively. But the problem is not the number of species, but the reproductive amount that we can use sustainably from the sea.

My opinion is different from that of the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), but I think the fishery of the world may still be increasing.

However, if human beings consume as many marine resources as whales do, the impact on the ecosystem will be great. If human beings compete with seabirds, the impact would also be felt on the ecosystem of islands or lands.

Making a Model of the Resource Management System through the Management of Whales

Even though there are no whale species that are distinguished in these two centuries, we can say that whaling has a history of overfishing.

Japan lately started far sea whaling, and continued whaling, though other countries started to become anti-whaling nations. It was just the same as the Japanese history of colonization that followed Western Great Power. Japanese people ate whale meat as an important protein source, while Europeans and Americans caught whales for their oil, taking 3.6 million barrels of whale oil each year.

Whales can be fished sustainably, if proper ecological management practices are used.

If a person opposes tyranny by the government, while he or she doesn't oppose the environmental groups who declare southern bluefin tuna or minke whales are endangered species, though they are not actually threatened, his or her way of thinking is not scientifically fair.

This is my biggest reason for supporting whaling.

My second biggest reason is that we can manage other fish species if we promote the management of whales. Frankly speaking, it is difficult to try to protect mackerels directly, since environmental groups don't express much if any concern about their sustainabilities.

Whales have been used as examples in proposals by researchers concerning ecological management policies, because both enterprises and environmental groups have focused a great deal of attention on sustainable whaling.

I hope that the management of whales will be successful.

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