Fate of the Commercial Whaling Ban Uncertain

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Illustration by Fotolia/maconga
Japan and Norway — though not Iceland — announced they would file objections to the commercial whaling ban.

Last summer the International Whaling Commission voted, by a whopping 25-to-7 margin, to ban commercial whaling starting at the end of the 1985 season. Conservationists rejoiced, but then the wait began. Would the whaling nations, and Japan in particular, go along with the ban?

Under the commission’s rules, it seems, any country that disagrees with any of the adopted resolutions has simply to say so … and then won’t be bound by the ruling! And if Japan, or any of the seven other whaling nations, were to object (or to resign from the commission, as some have threatened to do), then the spotlight would turn to Washington, D.C. and to two fairly new — and never invoked — laws that empower the U.S. government to impose fisheries sanctions on any countries that “impair the effectiveness” of an international fisheries convention. In other words, if a nation refuses to go along with the whaling ban, the United States can force that land’s ships to stay beyond our 200-mile zone — and can even suspend imports of fish and fish products from the offending country into the U.S.

As the 90-day grace period wound down, the smart money was betting that Japan would not object. But smart money, this time, was wrong. At the last minute (on election day, in fact, perhaps in an attempt to blunt the impact of the announcement), Japan and Norway declared their intention to file objections to the ban. This column was written before the U.S. had had time to react formally to the announcement of the objections. Conservationists expressed distress at the news, and — of course — planned to press the administration to invoke sanctions swiftly and surely. The whaling story, alas, is far from ended.