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NZ delegation opening statement at the IWC meeting

Embargoed until 1pm Monday 20 May 2002 Media Statement
Opening statement of the NZ delegation at the International Whaling Commission annual meeting
Shimonoseki, Japan. [Tabled by Hon Sandra Lee as delegation leader]


The New Zealand delegation expresses its thanks to the government of Japan and the city of Shimonoseki for hosting this year's annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission. We look forward to a successful meeting where views can be expressed openly, robust debate based on sound science can take place and progress can be made on issues of importance to the Commission. As in the previous two years the New Zealand Minister of Conservation, Hon Sandra Lee, is leading the delegation. Her presence at this meeting is a mark of the seriousness with which New Zealand regards the conservation of whales.

Although the South Pacific Whale Sanctuary proposal was not successful in obtaining a sufficient majority at the last two annual meetings to come into force, New Zealand, together with Australia, still considers the concept to be sufficiently important to place it once again before the meeting for consideration. We are particularly mindful that the proposal has been supported by nearly two thirds of all commission countries that voted on the issue in 2000 and 2001. Following last year's ministerial talks in Samoa on the purpose and objectives of the proposal, it is heartening to see that the Cook Islands have declared a whale sanctuary in their EEZ and that a number of other Pacific Island countries and territories are in various stages of preparation for following a similar course of action. New Zealand will also be co-sponsoring the Brazilian proposal for a South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary.

New Zealand was pleased to host the second session of the Expert Drafting Group on the Revised Management Scheme in February of this year. We look forward to further progress being made on the RMS at this meeting. There are, however, certain elements such as vessel monitoring, a centrally available DNA register of legally caught whales and a catch documentation scheme which New Zealand believes must be incorporated into the RMS. Without these, the RMS cannot fulfil its purpose of being a sound measure for managing commercial whaling should it ever recommence. We have put forward these views at both meetings of the EDG and will continue to do so.

New Zealand is particularly concerned at Japan's announced plans to extend its scientific whaling programme in the North Pacific ocean (JARPN) to include an additional 50 minke whales to be taken by the coastal whaling fleet and even more so by Japan's intention to take 50 sei whales. Neither of these proposals appears justified either from the scientific information to be gained from taking these whales nor from the available evidence of stock levels in the region. In addition, sei whales in the North Pacific are listed by the IWC as a Protection Stock with a quota of zero and are listed in the IUCN's red book as an endangered species. The taking of 50 additional minke whales appears to be a circumvention of a vote which Japan has lost for the past 15 years and the taking of sei whales looks like an act of defiance in the face of the evidence available on the abundance of these whales.

Independently verifiable scientific data must be at the heart of any decision on the use of whale stocks. It has been disturbing to see the use of unsubstantiated data on whale stocks or whale diet being used to justify scientific whaling quotas. An example is the continued use of the figure of 760,000 in relation to estimated minke stocks in the Southern Ocean. In 2000 the Scientific Committee declared that this figure was no longer valid and indicated that a more accurate estimate was closer to 280,000 although a final figure will not be available for two years or more, based on data from the IWC-sponsored SOWER cruises. The use of a now discredited figure does not reflect well on those still using it to justify taking whales in the Southern Ocean. In such instances the precautionary principle should apply and whale-killing activity in that area should cease.

Having regard to this ongoing uncertainty and the lack of information on stock levels there can be no justification for a lifting of the moratorium on commercial whaling. Those advocating such a step do not appear to have learned the lessons from the past where the IWC was unable to prevent the decline in numbers of most great whale stocks through any of the management regimes it put into place. New Zealand firmly believes that the only way to manage whale stocks sustainably is through their non-consumptive use.

This year all the aboriginal subsistence quotas come up for review. As in the past, New Zealand will be pleased to support all those aboriginal and subsistence whaling quota requests which meet IWC criteria.

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ENDS

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