(a letter written in response to the editorial of The Cape Times, 28/Jul/1982)
Dr. D.S. Butterworth
Dept. of Applied Mathematics, University of Cape Town
The reverse implication that perceived overexploitation is condoned by conservationists should domestic economics so demand, is quite horrific. I would certainly hope this was not a serious policy statement by any of these groups.
Genuine marine conservation requires a balance be struck between commercial and protectionist extremes, and there is a substantial need world-wide for greater emphasis on proper use of scientific evidence towards rational utilization of renewable resources.
The Seychelles "moratorium" proposal adopted (which, incidentally, they emphasized was "not for a moratorium or ban on whaling but proposes catch limits, which are set at zero") they motivated on the grounds of "scientific uncertainty and lack of data".
There is by no means general agreement that this viewpoint is justified. The IWC Scientific Committee has not endorsed it. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization says that the major commercially exploited whale stock, the Southern Hemisphere minke whale is in a "healthy state" and "there is no biological reason why moderate catches from these stocks should not be allowed and certainly no reason for a ban on their catching".
Encouraging polarisation (whaling vs. non-whaling nations) instead of seeking a balance is a tactic of questionable merit. Already nations are starting to emphasize reservation of rights within 200 mile EEZ's, following what they perceive as blatantly unjustified and unreasonable IWC decisions. Movement away from International Commissions for marine resource control will not enhance conservation, as scientific evidence usually carries more weight vis-a-vis commercial interests at international compared to national levels. The "conservationists" may consider they have won a battle, but I am concerned that the tactics to which they have resorted will lose them the war in the long run.
Fortunately some conservation groups appear to appreciate this danger. The Director of the Marine Action Centre in an article headed "Stop bashing the Japanese in the whale war" (The Times, London, 19/7/82) cautioned against "risking stocks close to extinction" (such as the Alaskan Bowhead) to achieve moratoria on stocks that are not.
"Conservation nations" appear to have seriously damaged the IWC's credibility by doing just that. Of the five "conservationist leaders" who submitted commercial whaling "moratorium" proposals to this year's IWC Meeting (Australia, France, Seychelles, U.K and U.S.A.), four voted against a zero quota proposal for the aboriginal Alaskan Bowhead harvest in the IWC Technical Committee (France abstained). Of the twenty five nations that supported the commercial "moratorium", only five voted for a zero Bowhead quota. The motion succeeded at the Technical Committee, but the full IWC Meeting declined to consider the matter further.
So catches are to be "banned" on a stock even the Seychelles "recognized is in no danger of extinction" (Southern Hemisphere minke whales) but permitted on the bowhead where the U.S.A. itself "recognizes the endangered nature of that species". Recommendation of the IWC Scientific Committee are effectively reversed.
In the event of Japan lodging an objection to the "moratorium", will the U.S.A. seriously have the gall to apply sanctions against that country for harvesting a stock recognized not to be endangered, while itself continuing on one that is? Political considerations are certainly playing a role in IWC voting, but perhaps the Cape Times has misidentified the culprits.
The major public concern in this matter, and rightly so, is the danger of extinction of species. Your editorial is quite incorrect in suggesting that certain whale species are already extinct as a result of commercial whaling: none are.
What constitutes "near extinction" is a matter of opinion, and you are naturally entitled to yours in this respect provided you apply it consistently. Similarly, Dr. Rupert, who is credited (Argus 16/2/82) with persuading South Africa to vote for listing the Sperm whale on Appendix I of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species), for which the principal biological criterion is "currently threatened with extinction", is entitled to apply norms different from those of conventional marine harvesting theory.
But I must then ask that the case of the South African Rock Lobster be considered in comparison to the major commercially harvested whale stocks. In brief:
Furthermore, rock lobsters are killed in a questionably humane manner, and amount to an insignificant proportion of South Africa's national protein requirement.
Now I (and I suspect most other local marine scientists) would not consider a "moratorium" on the local rock lobster fishery in any way justified. A number of reasonable and appropriate conservation measures has been enacted.
However, consistent application of the criteria implicit in the arguments of the Cape Times and Dr. Rupert lead to a different conclusion. I must therefore call on the Cape Times and S.A. Nature Foundation to:
Dr. D.S. Butterworth
(Dept. Applied Mathematics, UCT)