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Lee address to International Whaling Commission

21 May 2002

Hon Sandra Lee Speech Notes

INTERVENTION BY THE HON SANDRA LEE, MINISTER OF CONSERVATION, TO THE 54TH MEETING OF THE INTERNATIONAL WHALING COMMISSION (IWC 54) ON THE SUBJECT OF THE SOUTH PACIFIC WHALE SANCTUARY
Shimonoseki, Japan.

Mr Chairman
Nga mihi nui kia koe
Greetings to you

This is the third time that it has been my privilege as Minister of Conservation from New Zealand to present to the Commission a proposal to establish a South Pacific Whale Sanctuary to protect the great whales in their breeding grounds in our region.
At IWC 52 and 53, although our proposal fell short of the three-quarters majority required, New Zealand was pleased at the significant majority support that the South Pacific Whale Sanctuary did receive.

Mr Chair, New Zealand and Australia wish delegates to clearly understand that the overwhelming majority of Pacific Island Nations aspire to the creation of the sanctuary for our region.
This is confirmed by the Apia Declaration, to which I referred last year.
For the record, please also note the 2001 Pacific Islands Forum Communique, which states that Forum leaders reached a:
Consensus agreement to pursue the objectives of the proposal for a South Pacific Whale Sanctuary through national, regional and international actions and endorsing the statement that emerged from the Pacific Whale Consultation held in Apia in April
All Forum leaders were present, except the Solomon Islands.

I have listened carefully to the expressions of frustration articulated by some delegations in the debates on a range of issues to date.
We, the people of the Pacific region, have also felt frustrated at the failure to have the South Pacific Whale Sanctuary adopted by the IWC.
At least in part as a result of this frustration, a number of Pacific Island states and territories who are not IWC members have taken their own individual initiatives, as Australia has already pointed out, and they have either declared their Exclusive Economic Zones as Whale Sanctuaries, or have begun a formal legislative process to do so.

Since the last IWC meeting, sanctuaries have been declared by:
* The Cook Islands;
* French Polynesia;
* Papua New Guinea; and only last week by
* Niue.

In addition, whales are fully protected in Tonga, both by Royal Decree and by legislation.
Furthermore, a number of South Pacific countries have recently convened workshops to consider the status of whale populations in their waters and the economic benefits that may accrue from whale watching. These include:
* Papua New Guinea
* Fiji
* Solomon Islands

Mr Chairman, I continue to hear very misleading and unscientific arguments about the alleged impacts of whales on fish stocks - the most recent example being a large advertisement placed by the Institute of Cetacean Research in yesterday's Japan Times.
Let me once again state for the record that the vast majority of baleen whales in the South Pacific, and indeed in the Southern Hemisphere, do not feed on fish.
They consume krill in the Southern Ocean during our summer months, and do not eat during their lengthy migrations to and from their breeding grounds in tropical latitudes.

Mr Chairman, Pacific Island nations rely heavily on the sustainable harvesting of tuna and other fish species.
As I have previously observed in this forum, it is a surreal argument to blame whales for the problem of declining fish stocks. In the years when whale populations were significantly larger, so too were fish stocks.
If we want to find the real culprit for the depletion of fish stocks, a simple examination of human activity, including over-fishing, pollution and the general degradation and decline of the marine environment and its biodiversity, is all that is required.

New Zealand would like to thank those nations who have supported the South Pacific Whale Sanctuary proposal.
We would also urge others to join our cause, and in particular, we hope that the Small Island States of the Caribbean will review their previous position of vehement opposition and will support the aspirations of those of us from the islands of the Pacific on this issue.

Mr Chairman, it should not be lost on the delegates to the IWC that New Zealand will not resile from its desire to provide sanctuary in the breeding grounds of our region to complement the sanctuary on their feeding grounds in the Southern Ocean.
In conclusion, the New Zealand Government would like to make it clear that our aim to achieve a South Pacific Whale Sanctuary is not based on a moral judgment of any other countries' cultures or histories.
We openly concede that historically, New Zealand's commercial whaling practices contributed to the population decline of the great whales of our region.
But in an age when we have come to realise that global co-operation is essential if we are to avert a worldwide collapse of biodiversity, the South Pacific Whale Sanctuary should be seen simply for what it is - a progressive move forward in the protection of the ocean's greatest creatures.

I have heard many eloquent speeches at this IWC meeting, but for my concluding remarks, I will have to borrow the words of a writer far more eloquent than I, who wrote:
So that is all, but it is not enough; but perhaps it will remind you that we are still here. It is like the man who carried a brick with him, to show the world what his house was like.

No reira, tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa.

Ends

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