An NGO Introduction to the IWC

Posted on 09 July 2004
Spinner dolphins, Stenella longirostris. Papua New Guinea
© WWF / Jürgen FREUND
International Whaling Commission  
56th Annual Meeting
Sorrento, Italy 
An NGO Introduction for Media and Interested Parties

International Wildlife Coalition and WWF 


The International Whaling Commission (IWC) was established as a diplomatic by-product of the 1946 International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW), a formal international treaty organization formed to address the problem of depleting global whale stocks. As prescribed by the ICRW, the Commission has member nations who appoint Commissioners and Delegates to represent them at IWC meetings and in the general conduct of IWC business. The Commission has a Secretariat comprised of professional and administrative staff responsible for administering and overseeing IWC business as directed by member countries.
Note: The International Whaling Commission has its own web site that contains important documents relative to the Commission (historically) and specific to the 56th Annual Meeting. These include the "Convention" (original text); the "Schedule" (current list of whaling regulations); "Rules of Procedure" and documents specific to the 2004 Annual meeting (most notably, the 2004 Annotated Agenda).
Also look for the "Chairman’s Report" of the 2003 meeting. Go to
IWC Annual Meetings

The most public aspect of the International Whaling Commission remains their Annual Meetings (this year, the 56th IWC Annual Meeting is being held in Sorrento, Italy). Starting with a special Scientific Committee meeting to consider the Southern Ocean Sanctuary (27-28 June), the IWC’s Scientific Committee meets 29 June – 12 July. This is followed by a week of Sub-Committee and Working Group meetings, 13 – 18 July, with the formal Plenary meeting occurring 19 – 22 July.
Who’s A Member?

Please see list at end of document. Currently, the IWC has 55 member nations. However, a number of countries are rumoured to be "close" to joining the Commission, and are expected to do so just prior to the Sorrento meeting. Given that the IWC is a formal international treaty organization, interested countries (national governments) must submit a formal Instrument of Notification (to the depository country of record – the United States, in this case) in order to become a Party to the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling. In recent weeks, Hungary, Mauritania and Tuvalu have each submitted the proper instruments and are now recognized parties to the treaty, and are expected to attend the 56th IWC Annual Meeting in Sorrento.
Annual Membership Dues

Utilizing an interim schedule (still under consideration for final revision), IWC Member Nations are assessed and their annual membership dues based, in part, on the size of national economy, size of IWC delegation, and whether or not a nation conducts whaling operations. Dues payments must be current in order to maintain the right to vote. The IWC annual dues currently range from £7,712 (UK Pounds Sterling) for the smaller nations up an escalating range: £13,881; £18,508; £27,032; £33,887; £40,742; £52,986; £52,902; £59,757; to £66,696 for Norway; £88,712 for the United States (which has a large delegation and which conducts aboriginal whaling); and £133,696 for Japan (largest delegation and most whaling). 

Voting Rights

Once a nation becomes a recognized Party, each member nation can send delegations to attend IWC meetings. However, in order to have voting privileges at an annual meeting, a member country must be current with their annual dues. For example, the long-standing IWC member nations of Costa Rica, Kenya, and Senegal have been and are still years in arrears regarding the non-payment of past dues. Their voting rights have long-since been suspended and, as such, they will not be reinstated until a significant instalment is paid, they agree to a rigorous repayment schedule for the outstanding balance, and they pay their 2004 dues in full.
If any member nations fail to make the dues payment prior to the opening of the IWC meeting, the IWC Secretariat will report to the Commission that these nations are delinquent and that their voting rights have been suspended.
With all the above noted, and considering the report below on voting patterns, in relation to how the votes (pro-conservation vs. pro-whaling) are expected to add up, all interested delegates and observers monitor the IWC dues payment deadline and watch for the list of those member countries who can or cannot vote at IWC56.
Votes vs. Issues

A new observer to International Whaling Commission annual meetings might first delve into the large number of agenda items and wonder which are the most important. Most experienced observers, however, first jump to the IWC membership-voting list, which has been one of the most controversial IWC issues for more than 25 years.
In the 1970s, it was common knowledge within the Commission that the world’s whale stocks were being over-exploited, and that the Commission’s whaling management plan wasn’t working. Awareness of conservation issues has grown significantly in the past 40 years, as threats to species and their habitats have increased and been more fully understood. In turn, public and civil society through many national and international non-governmental organizations, have been increasingly engaged with the international "Save-The-Whales" movement. Many organizations work to advocate pro-conservation actions by IWC member nations—including whaling restrictions, the current moratorium on commercial whaling, and other actions. On the other hand, pro-whaling interests and governments are active, investing time and resources to obtain votes that are pro-whaling. There are many developing countries that are member nations of the IWC that are not whaling countries themselves, but vote openly and consistently in favor of whaling and the interests of whaling countries (e.g., Japan). Long-time observers of the statements and actions of many governments in the IWC have highlighted some of the pressures faced by some developing countries, and Japanese government representatives have publicly stated that Japan uses its international aid programme to convince other countries to join the IWC and vote in support of whaling.
IWC Annual Meeting Process

Once the Chair of the International Whaling Commission (who’s been chosen from within the ranks of member country Commissioners) calls the Plenary meeting to order on Monday morning, the Commission sets about establishing the final list of which nations have submitted proper credentials and paid dues, and approving the final agenda.
With this established, the Chair leads the assembly through each agenda item. Reports, or segments of reports, of the Scientific Committee, and a host of sub-committees and working groups specific to each individual agenda item, are reviewed. The Commission then considers the need for potential action. Such actions could come in the form of one or more nations making statements "for the record". There may be proposed resolutions (non-binding) by one or more nations that may offer advice or request one or more other nations to take action to address a host of concerns. The most significant actions relative to agenda items involve Schedule Amendments. Proposed resolutions require a simple majority vote (if the measure is not adopted by consensus). Schedule Amendments require a three-quarters majority vote.
For example, resolutions calling upon Japan, Norway and Iceland to stop scientific whaling are, in effect, non-binding requests by one set of member nations addressed to another. These require only a simple majority to pass (many resolutions against scientific whaling have been adopted). However, such resolutions are routinely ignored by the whaling nations. Important items that affect the way the Commission conducts business, detailed in the Rules of Procedure, require only a simple majority vote for modification.  
A schedule amendment, like the one proposed in 1994 to establish a "no whaling" sanctuary in the Antarctic Ocean, required a three-quarters majority in order to be adopted, which was achieved after much campaigning by conservation organizations and receptive governments.
In the vote-counting world of the IWC, the aspects of simple majority vs. three-quarters majority are very important. The significance of this is much more apparent when one notes that Japan basically controls the votes of 18 member nations (through the use of Overseas Development Assistance and other actions).
At recent Whaling Commission meetings, for example, conservation groups and sympathetic countries have not been able to obtain a three-quarters majority vote required for the adoption of Schedule Amendment proposals to establish no-whaling sanctuaries in the South Atlantic or the South Pacific, even though the majority of countries in the region supported the establishment of sanctuaries.
With Japan and friends controlling 18 "no" votes, added to the likely "no" votes from pro-whaling countries like China, Iceland, the Republic of Korea, Norway and the Russian Federation, any pro-conservation Schedule Amendment is not likely to ever pass. Japan and the pro-whaling countries now number about 24. The number of countries usually supporting conservation views on matters before the Commission now totals between 25 and 27 (depending on the issue).
With the voting numbers now being so close, many conservation organizations openly worry about the potential for the whaling nations to secure a simple majority voting block within the Commission for the first time in decades. If this occurs, one can envision a number of changes to the rules of procedure and related resolutions that would significantly alter the way the Commission conducts business. One example of this is the already submitted proposal by Japan to alter the rules of procedure so as to allow for the use of secret ballots when votes are called in the Commission. Currently, all voting (except for selection of Chair, Vice Chair and meeting venue) is in the open; all attending can observe, and record, how individual countries vote on each issue, which allows for the accountability and transparency.
Commissioners, Alternate Commissioners, Delegates, Non-Member Government Observers, Intergovernmental Organizations, and Non-governmental Organizations

The structure of IWC meetings is very straightforward. The Secretariat staff handles the administration and note taking of the Commission meeting.
Member nation delegations are headed by Commissioners and, possibly, Alternate Commissioners. Only Commissioners and Alternates can vote. Most delegations have additional members providing technical and scientific expertise; however, even though these delegates represent their countries, they do not have the authority to vote, which can be an issue when a Commissioner or Alternate is not in the meeting when a vote is called.
Non-Member Governments are invited to send representatives to attend and observe IWC Annual Meetings. A small number of observer nations can be found at each meeting. The same is true of Intergovernmental Organizations (IGOs), or organizations established by treaty between two or more nations formed to address specific issues.
Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), both pro and anti-whaling, have been allowed to attend IWC Annual Meetings since the early 1970s. Rules have been established to guide the Secretariat on procedures for accreditation, and to guide NGOs on proper conduct during the meeting.
Non-member governmental observers and IGOs are not allowed to speak during meetings (unlike other treaty meetings) and truly just observe. The NGOs, however, are very active and much interaction between delegations and NGOs occurs during the course of all IWC meetings (except those closed to observers). No observers can speak at IWC Annual Meetings unless recognized by the chair. On rare occasions, IGOs are allowed to address an action before the Commission (one in favour, and one opposed, if two opposing positions exist). NGOs, though technically allowed, are never permitted to address the International Whaling Commission. Many are seeking an expanded role for NGO specialists to assist the IWC with its work for whales 
The IWC Moratorium on Commercial Whaling

In 1982, after years of protest over the many aspects of commercial whaling, the International Whaling Commission was presented with a Schedule amendment proposal that called upon member nations to set all kill quotas for all
whale stocks (of all large whale species managed by the IWC) to be set at zero. The Schedule amendment was finally adopted and now resides as paragraph 10 (e) in the IWC Schedule. The moratorium, as it is called, was adopted in 1982, and went into effect in 1986. Commercial whaling nearly died off. During the following years, however, Japan launched into "scientific whaling" in the Antarctic and the North Pacific. Norway filed a formal objection to the moratorium and has conducted a limited form of coastal commercial whaling every year since. Iceland has recently rejoined the IWC and has launched its own contested form of scientific whaling.
Revised Management Scheme

In 1982, when the zero quota moratorium on commercial whaling was adopted, two primary reasons for supporting the moratorium were: 1) the mathematical formula utilized to calculate catch quotas was demonstrated to be invalid, and 2) there was considerable documented cheating by whaling nations and the Commission did not have a set of rules or enforcement options with which to properly oversee whaling operations.
In recent years, many whaling and pro-conservation member nations have generally acknowledged that the Revised Management Procedure (RMP), that was established by the IWC Scientific Committee for some stocks of certain species of large whales, is robust enough to set safe kill quotas for certain whale stocks under certain conditions. However, even this is contested at times.
With the work to develop a core part of the RMP finished, the Commission has increasingly turned its efforts to establish a Revised Management Scheme (RMS). This is to be the final set of rules governing the conduct, inspection, observation, compliance and management of whaling operations by member nations. The debate on the RMS has consumed many meetings (both Annual Meetings and special RMS meetings) over the past decade. During the past year, a closed-door meeting involving only a few countries (and no observers) has worked to develop a consensus document on the final points of the RMS. Some observers (who have not attended these meetings), have learned that a final RMS is "close", and that a full proposed text could be ready for consideration and possible adoption at the Annual Meeting in 2006.
Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling

Though the IWC has a moratorium on commercial whaling, the Commission has allowed the continuation of whaling by aboriginal peoples for reasons of culture and nutritional subsistence. Quotas have been allowed for indigenous peoples of the United States (Alaskan Inuit and the Macah Tribe of Washington State), Denmark (Greenland Inuit), Russian Federation (Russian Inuit) and the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The Commission is working to develop an Aboriginal Whaling Management Scheme to better accommodate the establishment of safe kill quotas that will allow aboriginal people to take whales, even on depleted stocks, without further endangering said stocks. Each aboriginal quota has its own set of issues before the commission. All aboriginal whaling quota discussions receive some attention at each IWC Annual Meeting, particularly at the Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling Sub-Committee Meeting that occurs the week just prior to plenary.
Important Issues for IWC56-Sorrento

Aside from the all-important vote counting issues, i.e. which group of member nations has the simple voting majority for IWC56, a short list of key controversial issues are noted here.
Conservation Committee

Established last year at IWC55-Berlin, the Conservation Committee meets for the first time, on two subsequent days during the Sub-Committee week, July 15th & 16th. Hotly opposed by the whaling nations, most notably Japan, there is concern that the whalers will actually boycott the first meetings of the Conservation Committee. Further, once the Plenary is called to order on Monday, 19 July, Japan and friends may move to have the Conservation Committee agenda item stricken from the Agenda. Though optimism is high that Japan will not succeed, it is feared that the battle over the Conservation Committee might consume considerable time during the four-day Annual Meeting. The Conservation Committee needs to elect a Chair and then move on to drafting and adopting Terms of Reference
required to direct and manage the Committee’s future work. Important global issues affecting the future of whale stocks, such as bycatch, pollution, and other conservation concerns, could be addressed by the Conservation Committee and should be of interest to all member countries. They relate, in that conservation issues impact whale stocks and therefore whaling quotas.
Secret Ballots

Japan has once again informed the Commission they will propose a change to the rules of procedure so as to allow for a wider use of secret ballots. This battle will come early in the meeting as Japan hopes to adopt this measure and then proceed with the use of secret ballots during the remainder of IWC56. Even some generally pro-whaling countries oppose the use of secret ballots for most of the Commission’s work. If Japan musters the simple majority votes to adopt secret ballots, one could assume that there would be additional rule changes that would be proposed and adopted. A secret ballot would eliminate all transparency and accountability in the votes of individual member countries.

The incidental take of whales and dolphins by many member (and non-member) nations has been of concern to conservationists for decades. WWF, and others, have prepared position papers on the bycatch problem. Interested parties are directed to these for additional information (
Southern Ocean Sanctuary, And Others

Established by Schedule Amendment (three-quarters vote) in 1994, the Antarctic Southern Ocean Sanctuary is being "reviewed" at the 2004 Annual Meeting. Japan has already signalled they intend to propose a Schedule Amendment to absolve this no-whaling sanctuary. It’s in these waters that Japan conducts their high seas, Antarctic scientific whaling. Japan has tried to dismantle the Southern Ocean Sanctuary many times in the past. However, given the need for a three-quarters majority vote required to amend the Schedule, it’s highly probable that Japan will fail once again.
Attempts to establish new sanctuaries in the South Atlantic and South Pacific are also likely to be unsuccessful, because of the need for conservation countries to muster a three-quarters majority. That is in spite of the expected support for these sanctuaries from the majority of range countries in both cases.
Other Issues

Issues of significant interest, and possible contention between the pro- and anti-whaling factions, include:
Assessment of Whales Stocks
: these are required for possible action related to whaling or conservation measures.
Whale Killing Methods
: the assessment of the cruelty of whaling is always contentious.
Small-Type Whaling:
Japan’s long standings attempts to get commercial kill quotas for their traditional coastal whaling villages (to get around the commercial whaling moratorium).
Scientific Permits: the conflict of Japanese and now Icelandic scientific whaling continues, with both nations under pressure to demonstrate that their lethal research whaling activities are necessary for the work of the Commission (which they are not).
Environmental and Health Issues
: on an increasing scale, NGOs and receptive member governments have used the IWC Annual Meetings to express interest in using Commission expertise to investigate the effects of toxics and environmental degradation on whale stocks. In addition, the increasing incidence of toxic chemicals in whale meat consumed by humans is a subject of concern within the Commission.
viewed as the legitimate right of member nations to benefit from whales in a non-lethal manner, the watching of whales, and the ecotourism economies and economic benefits for coastal communities this represents, are of increasing interest to some Commission member governments. Unfortunately, the whaling nations have not been keen to see whalewatching advanced within the Commission, even though some whaling nations (e.g., Iceland) benefit significantly within their countries from whalewatching. Japan, Norway and others may seek to remove this item from the Agenda at the opening of Plenary.
Co-operation with Other Organizations:
the key item here relates to IWC action relative to the work of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Subsequent to the adoption of the IWC zero quota moratorium on commercial whaling, the CITES treaty organization adopted a ban on the international trade in whale meat. Though not related to the IWC directly, this no-trade ban on whale meat has been a major barrier to the escalation of scientific whaling. Japan, Norway, Iceland and others have been trying to position the IWC so as to assist the whalers’ push at the next CITES Conference of the Parties meeting (October 2004) to partially weaken the international trade ban.
Outside Issues

One item of extreme interest to conservation NGOs fighting against commercial whaling is the fact that the national markets for whale meat and blubber in Japan, Norway and Iceland are declining. Each nation has stockpiles of frozen unsold whale meat. In Japan, with consumer demand for whale meat falling each year, the Japanese whalers and their governmental supporters have been forced to give away whale meat to schools and similarly to subsidise nutritional support programs. Both Japan and Norway have attempted national campaigns promoting the consumption of whale meat. The Japanese government also significantly subsidizes the "scientific whaling" industry, which in turns tries to sell the whale meat from the hunt on the Japanese market. Iceland took 36 minke whales in 2003 and their 2004 quota has been set at 25 minke whales. The whale meat from last year remains mostly unsold, and things are likely not to improve for the Icelandic domestic market anytime soon. 

Report compiled with assistance from WWF
For more information contact

Daniel J. Morast
International Wildlife Coalition
70 East Falmouth Highway
East Falmouth, Massachusetts 02536
Joanna Benn, WWF Communications Manager, Global Species Programme
+41 79 236 1209. 
International Whaling Commission Membership List

 As of: 9th July 2004 

Antigua, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belize, Benin, Brazil, Chile, China, Costa Rica **, Côte d’Ivoire, Denmark, Dominica, Finland, France, Gabon, Germany, Grenada, Guinea, Hungary, Iceland, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kenya **, Korea, Mauritania, Mexico, Monaco, Mongolia, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Oman, Palau, Panama, Peru, Portugal, Russian Federation, San Marino, Senegal, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Spain, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Sweden, Switzerland, Tuvalu, United Kingdom, United States 

**these member nations have significant dues in arrears and have lost voting privileges until substantial back payments are made