by Metiria Turei
South Korea stunned the international community yesterday by announcing that they intended to exploit the ‘scientific whaling’ exemption in the International Whaling Commission rules and begin hunting minke in their coastal waters. Most nations including New Zealand have condemned this action and we have supported the government’s strong statements about it.
South Korea has argued two main reasons for their decision. First, to
analyze and accumulate biological and ecological data on the minke whales migrating off the Korean peninsula. This research program will provide more comprehensive and detailed scientific information on the stocks and their interaction with other stocks will be more available.
And second, in recognition of cultural diversity
And in the consistent view of our government, it is essential that member governments mutually recognize the importance of cultural diversity and heritage of other countries.
We all know the fallacy of the first excuse – no scientifically robust information as ever come from the Japanese whaling program and none is expected from South Korea. Murray McCully described it as “commercial fishing in drag” – a somewhat queer description.
It is the second reason that worries me most – will cultural heritage become another loophole exploited by a state’s commercial interests in whaling? Will South Korea want to use the aboriginal subsistence hunting exemption in the future?
The IWC rules allows for aboriginal subsistence whaling for specific indigenous communities.
The catch limits are small and the communities need to reapply every five years. MFAT has supported the aboriginal whaling exemption. And so do I, to a point.
But in order to protect the rights of indigenous communities, it’s critical that those rights are not abused for commercial purposes. Indigenous communities will lose their rights if commercial interests dominate – it’s an old story.
Te Ohu Kaimoana have made a statement to the International Whaling Commission arguing for the continuation of traditional whale hunting by native inhabitants of Greenland (Inuit), United States (Alaskan Inupiat and the Makah), Russian Siberia (Chukotkan), and St Vincent and the Grenadines. Matiu Rei, who I have great respect for, likened the Commission’s rules to the colonisation process but failed to recognise the threat that commercial interests also present to indigenous rights.
If indigenous rights advocates miss that link they greatly increase the risk of even worse exploitation and abuse.
I’m suspicious about this. Te Ohu Kai Moana has maintained a relaxed approach to whaling for some years. Glenn Inwood, who works (last I heard) for TOKM is also the spokesperson in NZ for the Japanese whaling companies. While TOKM might have a legitimate interest in supporting the aboriginal subsistence whaling exemption, their close association to the Japanese commercial whaling entities suggest to me that they may have other interests as well. When I’m feeling especially cynical I wonder if they are supporting whaling because of current or future economic opportunities in Asia?
I sincerely hope not. I sincerely hope that Te Ohu Kaimoana will fight against commercial exploitation of aboriginal subsistence rights just as fiercely as they do against institutional abuse. If not, they become a tool for that exploitation and we all lose.