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Why do loopholes always favour the bad guys?

It’s well known, of course, that Japan has killed whales for decades by exploiting a loophole in IWC legislation (under Article VIII of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, the IWC’s founding treaty) which permits member states to issue ‘special permits’ to their nationals to whale under the guise of ‘scientific research’.  So transparent it would be laughable, was it not so tragic: over 14,600 whales have died in the name of Japanese ‘research’ since 1987 – and the killing goes on.

Fin whale (c) Tim StentonIn Europe, WDC continues to campaign  to stop whale meat and products transiting UK and EU ports, including meat from endangered fin whales which are listed under Appendix 1 of CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species).  However, whaling nations conveniently exploit a loophole which allows member countries to take out a ‘reservation’ against any species listing, exempting them from CITES trade restrictions for that species. How convenient then, that Iceland, Norway and Japan have all taken such ‘reservations’ on fin whales, thus allowing them to legally trade dead fin whales between themselves.

In recent months, we’ve publicized several such shipments from both Iceland and Norway travelling to Japan via EU ports, including Southampton, Le Havre, Rotterdam and Hamburg and of course we celebrated when a consignment of Icelandic fin whale meat – which got no further than Hamburg – was ‘returned to sender’ last July.

It would seem that the publicity and outrage widely felt within the EU at being forced to allow whale meat through its waters has prompted whalers such as Kristjan Loftsson (desperate to offload his meat in Japan) to scan the globe for other routes.  Hence, the news that Icelandic fin whale meat recently crossed Canada by train.

Outrageous? Yes, but entirely legal, it would appear. The meat reportedly arrived at the port of Halifax and was loaded aboard a Canadian National train for a journey across Canada to the Metro Vancouver port, for the onward journey to Japan.  Cynics and geographers will have spotted that Canada just happens to offer a convenient staging post between Iceland and Japan.

Although Canada is a signatory to CITES – and hasn’t taken a reservation against the listing of fin whales – it is ‘helpless’ to stop the whalers trans-shipping their cargo across the country. CITES restrictions don’t apply to products or specimens in transit through a country as long as all paperwork is in order and the consignment remains under Customs control, a process known as ‘in bond’ or ‘under seal’,  as was the case here. Effectively, it is as if the whale meat was not actually imported and so Canadian authorities were free to inspect the consignment – but were otherwise powerless to detain it.

So what can be done? Obviously, of course, these and similar loopholes which favour those that exploit wildlife should be closed. However, CITES also allows member countries to enact stricter domestic measures relating to trade and transport of listed species. This is the first time Canada has been involved in the trans-shipment of whale meat and potentially, the federal government could enact domestic legislation forbidding any future transits via its ports or across its territory.  Shipping and railway companies could refuse to carry whale meat and products: indeed the ‘Hamburg consignment’ of fin whale meat was returned to Iceland last summer largely because the two shipping companies involved, Samskip and Evergreen Lines, weary of the furore at the time, pledged not to carry whale meat again.

It would seem that Canada’s borders are also vulnerable to unofficial trade as well. A Canadian from New Brunswick convicted of smuggling narwhal tusks into the United States is facing an extradition hearing in April.  CBC reports that the individual was convicted last October of seven counts of trafficking offences relating to 250 narwhal ivory tusks purchased from Inuit co-ops in Nunavut where he had previously worked for 25 years as an RCMP constable. He was fined a record $385,000 and given an eight-month conditional sentence that includes four months’ house arrest.

Much comes down to political will and the question here is whether there is sufficient will within Canada to ban future transits?  Canada is not an IWC member and allows bowhead whales and other small cetaceans to be hunted under a form similar to the IWC’s ‘Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling’ (ASW).

WDC calls on Canada to take action to end both these ‘legal’ and illegal movements of whale meat and thus avoid becoming just another pawn in the commercial whalers’ end-game.