The International Whaling Commission's 40 member states, including Switzerland, are meeting in Australia to debate whether to loosen a moratorium on whale hunting.This content was published on July 3, 2000 - 08:12
This year's IWC conference has a heavy agenda. It covers topics from the latest estimate of the size of existing whale populations, methods of control and inspection, to the heated issue of scientific whaling, whale hunting by indigenous peoples, methods of killing, the influences of ecological factors on whale populations, and the future of the IWC itself.
Switzerland's position on whaling was set out by the Federal Veterinary Office. Office spokesman, Heinz Müller, told swissinfo that the country favours a continuation of the current moratorium on commercial whaling, and believes that any future exploitation of whales should be based on the concept of sustainability.
Furthermore, the ecological impact must be kept to an absolute minimum, as must any physical suffering to the animals themselves, said Müller.
Switzerland sees the "Irish Compromise" as the best chance to achieve these goals. The key provision of the Irish government proposal is the establishment of a new regime for the sustainable exploitation of whales that also guarantees the survival of all species.
Among other specific issues of concern to the Swiss is the question of small whales. These include some 90 species of salt and fresh-water whales and dolphins. At present only 20 of them are listed by the IWC. Every year commercial fishing accidentally kills thousands of these small whales. Switzerland would like to see all 90 species included on the IWC list, as well as changes in fishing techniques and practices to reduce the number of accidental small whale deaths.
On the question of scientific whaling, Switzerland favours non-lethal research, with killing tolerated only in unavoidable cases.
Turning to the future of the International Whaling Commission itself, Heinz Müller points out that only 40 countries are members of the commission. 100 active whaling nations are, and are therefore not bound by IWC decisions. In other words, more whaling is being conducted outside IWC jurisdiction than within it. Here, more work has to be done at the political level to convince these other countries to join.
Müller says it's ultimately the market for whale meat and by-products that makes whaling attractive. He adds that the best way to reduce whaling is to find a way to reduce market demand, and that's largely a question of sensitising consumers.
by Bob Zanotti
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