The truth behind 'sustainably fished' and 'organic' labels

Organic veggies, certified sustainable seafood and farm-to-table dining are all the green rage in Singapore – but are they as earth-friendly as they are cracked up to be? The new series Coming Clean About Green investigates.
Derrick A Paulo and Say Xiangyu Channel NewsAsia 15 Sep 18;

SINGAPORE & THAILAND: It is in demand every Chinese New Year and is believed to bring good luck. But the red grouper is also overexploited or from unsustainable sources, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

It is among the three in four popular seafood species consumed here that WWF Singapore considers overfished or not well-managed, a list that includes swordtip squid and stingray.

In a country where people love to eat seafood – on average, 21kg per person in a year, compared to the global average of 20kg – one solution to the depletion of fish stocks is to eat responsibly.

To this end, a growing number of businesses, like Marina Bay Sands, are starting to use more certified sustainable products in their kitchens. But are such measures really benefiting the environment?

In January, nearly 70 organisations and individuals criticised the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), the dominant seafood sustainability certifier, for failing to uphold standards to reduce overfishing.

In a joint letter, they said “an increasing number of controversial fisheries” had been certified despite destroying the environment and having unsustainable practices.

At a time when efforts like eco-dining – eating food harvested in a responsible way – ditching plastic straws and switching to electric cars are growing trends, a new Channel NewsAsia series is questioning things that green advocates might take for granted.

Coming Clean About Green looks at how impactful some of these green solutions, from cycling to clean coal, really are. And in the case of eating sustainably, it will take much more than that to make a world of difference. (Watch the episode here.)


When it comes to sustainable seafood labels, there are few options. The Aquaculture Stewardship Council is one, and the Global Aquaculture Alliance’s Best Aquaculture Practice is another.

As for the MSC, its Asia-Pacific director Patrick Caleo disputed that his organisation is not doing enough. “If it’s MSC-certified, it’s sustainable,” he said.

Conservation groups would rather the bar be raised much higher, and the industry would rather see it lower.

“MSC’s bar is set at a very high level: 50 per cent of fisheries that initially go for a pre-assessment don’t go on to achieve MSC certification. We’ve got to be careful that we don’t set the bar too high," he added.

There are annual surveillance audits of fisheries, he said, and “every point in the supply chain has taken ownership” of products with the MSC label. “The wholesale processes, right back to the fishery, have a chain of custody in place.”

Still, seafood is a fast-moving industry. Things can go wrong, and one of the risks is mislabelling. In 2016, advocacy group Oceana reported that one in five seafood samples it tested worldwide was mislabelled.

In Singapore, this would constitute food fraud under the Wholesome Meat and Fish Act, punishable by a fine of up to S$50,000 and/or a maximum jail term of two years for a first conviction, said the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority.

But it still happens. When the CNA team sent eight samples of certified sustainable fish to a laboratory, the results showed that one product did not match its packaging label, which had stated Pacific cod.

The product labelled Pacific cod (above) was found to be Alaskan pollock, which is not on WWF's Singapore Seafood Guide's green list, although it is a fish of the cod family and its wild stock s certified sustainable by the MSC.
When the supplier and the MSC were alerted to this finding, they said they would investigate the matter.


Sustainable fish is not the only food that might not be what it seems. People may take a leap of faith when it comes to organic farm products too.

At eco-grocery chain Little Farms, its most popular products are organic. Head of operations Fred Moujalli noted, however, that “being organic doesn’t necessarily mean it’s pesticide-free”.

There are, for example, natural pesticides. But that is the shady side of the organic food industry because producers “may not be honest”, according to Thai-Pesticide Alert Network (Thai-Pan) adviser Kingkorn Narintarakul Na Ayutdhaya.

“We can’t guarantee that they’d use only light pesticides. They might use dangerous ones,” said the activist.

Forty per cent of the world’s organic producers are in Asia. And in Thailand, the amount of organic farmland nearly doubled between 2009 and 2016, backed by government support and growing demand.

Thai-Pan’s tests in 2016, however, found that two in 10 samples of fruits and vegetables certified as organic by the Thai government contained chemical residues.

“We’d like to advise consumers not to believe or trust it (certification) 100 per cent,” said Ms Kingkorn.

One vegetable farm that uses organic fertilisers, and more workers than in conventional farms to get rid of pests and weeds, is Monkey Organic Farm in Chiang Mai. And owner Nives Pirarak bemoans the “fake” organic products of some farmers.

“As you know, organic products are more expensive than general ones. They’d mix them up and label them all as organic,” he said. His farm took two years to be certified as organic, and he feels “cheated” by such mislabelling.

I’ve tried very hard, made a lot of effort and spent a lot of time and money.

So how does a grocer like Little Farms back its claim that its sells produce which is good for the environment?

“It’s trust and relationship … If you trust your supplier, and we know where it comes from, that’s enough for me to serve to my customers,” said Mr Moujalli, 43.

“If I can ring up the supplier and say, ‘you’re stating a 100 per cent organic ingredients – can you please send over your certs, and that’ll be fine’, the minute they start to hesitate, we know there’s something going on.”


It is not just the organic movement that is gaining traction in Singapore. So too are farm-to-table restaurants, which are classified as those using fresh locally grown food.

One of them is Open Farm Community, in Dempsey. And head chef Oliver Truesdale-Jutras affirmed that the restaurant “tries to source locally as much as we can”. “We’re trying to shave food miles off our food,” he said.

“If you’re using organic produce in Singapore from the Netherlands, the miles you’re adding on, in terms of … how much energy gets used, pretty much equate to a standard product from nearby or even a very badly farmed product from nearby.

“We’re saving a lot of fuel for the world, I guess.”

The question of where your ingredients are from is a reminder of the environmental cost of transporting produce. But how much difference would a reduction in food miles make?

According to the study “Food-miles and the relative climate impacts of food choices in the United States”, transport represents only 11 per cent of the greenhouse gas emissions associated with food, based on an average supply chain of 6,760 kilometres.

The production phase contributed 83 per cent of the average household's carbon footprint for food consumption, with red meat being around 150 per cent more carbon-intensive than chicken or fish.

Hence the study’s authors, from Carnegie Mellon University, suggested that dietary shifts could be a more effective means of lowering one’s food-related climate footprint than “buying local”.

In Singapore, to help consumers when it comes to eating fish, WWF has a sustainable seafood guide, notwithstanding the arguments about certification. There is, however, another question here – about feasibility.

For example, cod from Japan and Hokkaido scallops are sustainable but expensive, as with a good number of the other recommended foods, like rock lobster and sea cucumber.

Food vendors may also have no idea whether their fish are sustainable and where it comes from, or even what is in a product such as fish balls.

Ultimately, consumers can still play a part in eco-dining, but it also takes healthy scepticism and a lot more work to make a real environmental impact.

The series Coming Clean About Green looks at the complex realities of green solutions being pursued across Asia. Watch this episode here.

Source: CNA/dp

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Appetite for shark fin soup serious risk to threatened sharks

The University of Hong Kong Science Daily 13 Sep 18;

Fishing pressure on threatened shark populations has increased dramatically in recent years and it is urgent that consumers reject shark fin products altogether -- a study in Marine Policy by researchers from the Swire Institute of Marine Science (SWIMS), School of Biological Sciences, University of Hong Kong (HKU), the Sea Around Us initiative at the University of British Columbia (UBC) and WildAid Hong Kong reveals.

"Data suggest that global shark catches now exceed one million tonnes per year, more than double what they were six decades ago. This overexploitation now threatens almost 60% of shark species, the highest proportion among all vertebrate groups." said HKU School of Biological Sciences Professor Yvonne Sadovy, lead author of the study.

"Hong Kong is the port of entry for about half of all officially traded dried shark fins globally, importing around 6,000 tonnes per year in recent years." Professor Sadovy explained. A 2017 study showed that 33% of shark fins found on sale in Hong Kong's dried seafood stores were from species listed as Threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

It is estimated that only 12% of shark fisheries are considered potentially sustainable, indicating that 25,000 tonnes of dried fins each year originate from other unsustainable, often illegal, fisheries. Distinguishing the species from which fins are sourced can be extremely difficult, as the mixing of catches is a common practice that hampers traceability efforts, and many fins look similar.

"Shark finning and the mixing of catches tend to take place in the open seas or in remote ports, where there is little to no oversight. Moreover, authorities show little interest in controlling illegal wildlife trade, including that in shark fins. Even if they do, their enforcement capabilities are very limited because they cannot inspect and run DNA tests on every single fin that arrives at their customs to determine the area where the shark was caught, or even determine the species," said co-author Professor Daniel Pauly, Principal Investigator with the Sea Around Us at UBC.

A large proportion of fins comes from sharks caught as bycatch: for example, sharks comprise over 25% of the total catch in longline tuna and billfish fisheries in multiple countries. While there are ways to mitigate biologically unsustainable or environmentally harmful shark bycatch, ranging from temporal and spatial measures to gear modifications, there is very little evidence of fisheries management authorities or industry insisting on rapid adoption of such methods. Indeed, bycatch mitigation measures may well be resisted if bycatch consists of sharks for which fins can be sold.

"The global shark fin industry is rife with criminal activity and cannot be trusted to police itself effectively. Ensuring truly sustainable shark fisheries and shark fin trade remain a far-off pipe dream. Simply put, around a quarter of all shark species are hurtling towards extinction. As our paper clearly shows, the only real way to protect sharks is to adopt the precautionary principle and halt the consumption and trade in all shark fin. Furthermore, Hong Kong's restaurant sector -- including companies like Maxim's Catering Limited and Paramount Catering Group Limited, should refrain from selling and serving shark fin immediately which is directly contributing to the endangerment of shark species." said Mr. Alex Hofford, Wildlife Campaigner at WildAid Hong Kong.

Both legal and illegal fisheries are driving the overfishing of sharks which is driven overwhelmingly by the international trade to obtain their fins. Pressure is particularly high in Indonesia where annual catches exceed 100,000 tonnes of shark a year. India, Spain and Taiwan also play an important role in the catching of sharks and the subsequent sale of their fins in international markets, particularly in Hong Kong, from where many are re-exported, particularly mainland China.

In the view of the researchers, waiting for multilateral organizations to develop and enforce rules regarding shark fishing and regulate the fin trade is not an option both because available enforcement and compliance systems are far too poorly applied for wildlife trade in most countries trading fins, including mainland China, and because it would likely take too long and that is a luxury not currently afforded to many shark species. While there is much scope for enforcement of existing laws controlling catching and international trade to improve, this will take time and is unlikely to improve in the near future.

"The exclusivity linked to a natural product combined with its limited supply in the wild increases its price and makes it an attractive trading good for business networks, including extensive illegal trade. This trade is simply proving too difficult for authorities to control." Professor Sadovy added.

"Consumers have to act fast and decide what is acceptable and what is not when it comes to vulnerable, uncontrolled species. Traditions change all the time according to new knowledge and shifting values. So while the appetite for shark fin soup is growing in places like Thailand and Macau it is slowly declining in Hong Kong and mainland China, where young people are starting to see it as a cultural practice that is worth abandoning." Professor Pauly said.

Global shark catch levels have more than doubled since 1960 and populations of some shark species such as hammerhead and oceanic whitetip have declined by over 90 per cent in recent years largely because of wealthy Chinese consumers' appetite for shark fin soup, the paper states. The authors call on consumers to reject the luxury dish and for authorities to employ the precautionary principle by protecting sharks more effectively. The shark fin trade is used as an example of the challenges of controlling growing international trade in for high value markets that increasingly threaten wildlife.

"Extinction must not make the decision for us." commented Professor Sadovy "We must either control ourselves to ensure sustainable exploitation and trade, or stop trade in luxury species or products that seriously threaten their future on our planet."

Journal Reference:

Yvonne Sadovy de Mitcheson, Astrid Alexandra Andersson, Alex Hofford, Calton S.W. Law, Loby C.Y. Hau, Daniel Pauly. Out of control means off the menu: The case for ceasing consumption of luxury products from highly vulnerable species when international trade cannot be adequately controlled; shark fin as a case study. Marine Policy, 2018; DOI: 10.1016/j.marpol.2018.08.012

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Super Typhoon Mangkhut smashes into Philippines

Channel NewsAsia 15 Sep 18;

TUGUEGARAO: Super Typhoon Mangkhut slammed into the northern Philippines on Saturday (Sep 15) with violent winds and torrential rains, as authorities warned millions in its path of potentially heavy destruction.

The massive category 5 storm, which forecasters have called the strongest typhoon this year, blew in windows, hurled debris and knocked out power lines when it made landfall on the island of Luzon in the pre-dawn darkness.

It packed powerful gusts of up to 255km per hour and sustained winds of 205km per hour while heading west across the disaster-prone archipelago towards China.

Television and radio news coverage and footage posted on social media showed trees being whipped by strong winds and bursts of rain lashing down on roads where tree branches, signs and trash bins had fallen.

"As much as possible, stay indoors," Chris Perez, a forecaster for the state weather service, warned the roughly four million people in the path of the storm after it landed at 1.40am (1740 Friday GMT).

An average of 20 typhoons and storms lash the Philippines each year, killing hundreds of people and leaving millions in near-perpetual poverty.

Thousands of people fled their homes in high-risk areas ahead of the storm's arrival because of major flooding and landslide risks.

Mangkhut, locally named Ompong, has a diameter of about 900km. Authorities hiked the storm alert on Friday to its second highest level in northern Luzon provinces and mobilised rescue teams.

The elevated warning level carried risks of "very heavy" damage to communities hit by the typhoon and a storm surge that was forecast to hit six metres in some areas, the weather service said.

Residents started lashing down their roofs and gathering supplies days before the arrival of the storm that forecasters said is the most powerful of 2018.


"Among all the typhoons this year, this one (Mangkhut) is the strongest," Japan Meteorological Agency forecaster Hiroshi Ishihara told AFP on Friday.​​​​​​​

"This is a violent typhoon. It has the strongest sustained wind (among the typhoons of this year)", he added.

After blasting the Philippines, Mangkhut is predicted to hurtle towards China's heavily populated southern coast this weekend.

"They (authorities) said this typhoon is twice as strong as the last typhoon, that's why we are terrified," Myrna Parallag, 53, told AFP after fleeing her home in the northern Philippines.

"We learned our lesson last time. The water reached our roof," she said, referring to when her family rode out a typhoon at home in 2016.

The country's deadliest on record is Super Typhoon Haiyan, which left more than 7,350 people dead or missing across the central Philippines in November 2013.

Poor communities reliant on fishing are some of the most vulnerable to fierce typhoon winds and the storm surges that pound the coast.

"The rains will be strong and the winds are no joke ... We may have a storm surge that could reach four storeys high," Michael Conag, a spokesman for local civil defence authorities, told AFP.

The storm is not forecast to directly hit Hong Kong, though it will feel Mangkhut's wind and rain through Sunday.

However, the Hong Kong Observatory warned that the massive typhoon will pose a "severe threat" to China's southern coast before moving on to northern Vietnam.

Source: AFP/Reuters/ec/hm

Hong Kong braces itself for Super Typhoon Mangkhut, the strongest tropical storm in decades
Channel NewsAsia 13 Feb 18

HONG KONG: Hong Kong was on Thursday (Sep 13) preparing for Super Typhoon Mangkhut, predicted to make landfall this weekend. It may be the strongest ever tropical storm to lash the city in decades, the Xinhua news agency reported.

With winds that may gust up to 240km/h, Mangkhut is expected to be more powerful than the Super Typhoon Wanda that resulted in heavy casualties in 1962 and the Super Typhoon Hato, which triggered the highest level typhoon warning signal last year.

The Hong Kong Observatory issued a No 3 typhoon signal on Wednesday as winds gathered strength with the tropical storm Barijat. All the warning signals related to Barijat were cancelled early Thursday, but officials warned of a much greater threat from Mangkhut.

According to the observatory, Mangkhut is forecast to move towards the Philippine island of Luzon on Friday and Saturday. Around 10 million people in the Philippines are in the storm's path, and millions more in heavily populated coastal China.

Philippine authorities have started to evacuate thousands of people from coastal areas as winds bore down on the country's main island.

It will be the strongest of 15 storms to have hit the Philippines this year.

"Its track and wind strength near the centre may change under the influence of the terrain of Luzon, but it is expected to remain in the category of super typhoon after entering the South China Sea," wrote the Hong Kong Observatory on its website.

Forecast path of Super Typhoon Mangkhut as it approaches Hong Kong. (Graphic: AFP/Gal Roma)

"Although there are still uncertainties in the subsequent track of Mangkhut and its distance from Hong Kong, Mangkhut’s extensive circulation will bring significantly deteriorating weather to Hong Kong on Sunday with frequent heavy squally showers.

"Seas will be very rough with swells and low-lying areas may be affected by storm surge," it added.


The Hong Kong government convened Wednesday afternoon an inter-departmental meeting that involved 30 government bureaus, departments and organisations.

They discussed response plans, preventive measures and logistics support, among other things.

Security Secretary John Lee has directed all emergency response departments to have their deployment and response plans ready.

Social media users and radio commentators in Hong Kong said they were stocking up on food and supplies after the observatory warned residents to prepare for the storm, saying it posed a "considerable threat".

Local media reported a price surge on everyday items in Hong Kong as residents began preparing for the worst.

Ms Phoebe Wong, 47, a field sales supervisor at Procter & Gamble said her family has stocked up on some food in preparation of the typhoon.

"We have stocked up on some food but not much as some shops will still be open," Ms Wong told Channel NewsAsia.

"My sister has also placed the tape across her windows to prevent the glass from shattering everywhere if it does break," she added.

Shoppers were stocking up on fruits and vegetables, as well as fish and meat, with many stores selling out their wares earlier than usual, according to the South China Morning Post.

The newspaper also reported residents planning flood barriers such as sandbags, boards and brick walls to protect their homes and shops.

Hong Kong's flag carrier Cathay Pacific said on Wednesday its flight operations "will likely deteriorate, with flight delays and cancellations expected this coming weekend".

"Service resumption will possibly be slow after Typhoon Mangkhut passes through," its website stated. "We strongly request passengers travelling on these dates, and whose bookings were made on or our mobile app, to rebook their journey."

Several other Hong Kong-based airlines have announced a waiver for rebooking fees.

Source: Agencies/Bernama/CNA/hs(ra)

Dozens of flights delayed, cancelled amid Typhoon Mangkhut threat
Channel NewsAsia 14 Sep 18;

SINGAPORE: At least five international airlines have announced flight delays and cancellations in anticipation of the super typhoon Mangkhut, which is said to be the strongest this year.

On Friday (Sep 14), Singapore Airlines (SIA) announced it had cancelled 12 flights between Singapore, Hong Kong and San Francisco originally scheduled for Sep 16 to Sep 18.

"We are monitoring the weather situation closely and will provide further updates on SQ890/SQ891 and SQ868/SQ857 departing on 16 September 2018 when details of those flights are confirmed," the national carrier said on its website.

"As of now, all Singapore Airlines or SilkAir flights operating to and from potentially affected stations in Guangzhou and Shenzhen continue to operate as scheduled," it added.

Scoot, the budget airline operated by SIA, also announced the cancellation of 10 flights flying to and from Hong Kong, Macau and Guangzhou on Sep 16, while four flights scheduled for Sep 16 and Sep 17 between the latter two destinations would be delayed.

Malaysia Airlines said it was cancelling six flights to and from Hong Kong that were originally scheduled for Sep 15 and Sep 16.

The Philippine Airlines alone has called off dozens of domestic and international flights scheduled for Sep 14 to Sep 16, including to Hong Kong, Shanghai, Seoul and Osaka. Several delays were also announced.

Cebu Pacific Air has similarly cancelled more than 30 flights for Sep 14 to Sep 17, most of them domestic.

Millions in the Philippines are at risk from the super typhoon that is set to smash the northern coast this weekend, potentially bringing floods, landslides and huge waves to the disaster-prone nation.

Thousands have evacuated their homes along the coastline, and businesses and residents in Luzon island have reportedly been boarding up windows and tying down roofs that may be sheared off by sustained winds of 205 kilometres per hour.

Mangkhut is predicted to reach China's southern coast around Sunday, according to the Hong Kong Observatory. The city's residents were reportedly stocking up on everyday items such as fish and vegetables during the week. Some were also setting up flood barriers for their properties.

Source: CNA/hs

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'Raise ambition level' in climate change fight: UN weather chief

AFP Yahoo News 14 Sep 18;

Geneva (AFP) - Countries need to dramatically hike their ambitions in the fight against climate change, the World Meteorological Organization said Thursday, warning that the planet will soon be locked in a cycle of relentless warming.

"The ambition level has been too low," WMO chief Petteri Taalas told reporters in Geneva, warning that the world is on track this century to see three to four times greater temperature rises than the stated objective in the 2015 Paris agreement.

World leaders who signed the agreement committed to a series of measures to limit global temperature rises to less than 2.0 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) overall and to below 1.5 degrees by the end of the century.

But recent studies show the world is off track and likely to miss that target.

"We know that if we want to reach 1.5 degrees, ambition levels should be extremely high, and one might say it is not very realistic to achieve 1.5 degrees," Taalas said.

- Runaway climate change? -

"Globally we haven't been able to follow such a path that would lead to 1.5 and two degrees," he said, warning that "we are rather going towards three to five degrees... by the end of this century."

Taalas pointed out that currently, 85 percent of global energy is produced using fossil fuels, with only 15 percent coming from a combination of nuclear, hydropower and renewable energies.

"To be successful in climate mitigation we should reverse those numbers," he said.

He also insisted that more needs to be done to "electrify our transport systems", and called for people to move more towards vegetarian diets to help reduce the high levels of greenhouse gas emissions during meat production.

With 2018 shaping up to be the fourth hottest year on record, UN chief Antonio Guterres warned earlier this week that the world needed to act within two years to avert the disastrous consequences of runaway climate change.

Taalas did not mention a similar cut-off point, but he stressed that if more is not done to rein in emissions, global temperatures will soar far past the two-degree target.

"We will reach eight degrees warmer climate that would last up to tens of thousands of years," he warned, pointing out that carbon dioxide, once emitted, can remain in the atmosphere for millenia.

Even if countries step up now and do everything needed to ensure the Paris target is met, Taalas pointed out that the planet will continue warming and glaciers in Greenland, Antarctica and elsewhere will continue melting for at least the next 50 years.

"If we are able to control emissions, we would see the stabilisation of the situation in the 2060s," he said.

"The melting doesn't stop immediately. It is a slow process," he said, adding that even if the Paris targets are met, global sea levels are expected to rise one metre by the end of the next century.

If we don't meet the Paris targets, however, we should expect global sea levels to rise by one metre each century, and this "will continue for thousands of years," Taalas said.

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Japan's attempt to overturn commercial whaling ban fails

Anti-whaling nations defeat proposals that would have allowed for the return of hunts
Fiona Harvey The Guardian 14 Sep 18;

An attempt to overturn the decades-old global ban on commercial whaling has failed, to the relief of conservationists.

Anti-whaling nations defeated by a decisive margin proposals from the Japanese government that would have allowed for the return of whale hunts.

The vote, on the last day of this year’s meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in Brazil, was hailed by campaigners as a sign that pro-whaling nations will not be allowed to weaken global resolve to protect threatened species.

Kitty Block, president of the animal charity Humane Society International, said: “It is an immense relief that the IWC’s moral compass has led it to reject Japan’s reckless and retrograde attempt to bring back commercial whaling. What Japan tried to do here was to bend and break the rules of the IWC to lift an internationally agreed ban on killing whales for profit. It deserved to fail; the world has moved on from commercial whaling, and so must Japan. We hope that the IWC can now get on with the business of protecting these ocean leviathans from the myriad other threats they face.”

Nicolas Entrup of OceanCare added: “Resuming to grant commercial whaling quotas would consequently also lead to a removal of the international trade ban in products from those whale species, as both conservation instruments – the whaling ban and the trade ban – are interlinked. We cannot allow opening Pandora’s box to see whales killed in even higher numbers while being so close to phasing out this unnecessary and cruel activity. We are relieved that the IWC today prevented this dangerous blow to the moratorium.”

Some observers suggested Japan could seek to leave the IWC, though this would be controversial. The vote, in which 41 governments defeated 27, also revealed a substantial minority of nations prepared to side with Japan. Many of these have no whaling interests of their own but have political allegiances with Tokyo for other reasons.

Earlier in the week, the meeting also rejected calls for a sanctuary for whales to be set up in the south Atlantic. Pro-whaling nations argued there was no need for it.

However, the IWC at the meeting adopted a new declaration crafted by Brazil and named after the city of the meeting, Florianopolis, that restated the global commitment to the protection of whales and the ongoing need to push positive conservation measures beyond the longstanding moratorium.

This is seen as a way to update the mission of the 72-year-old organisation to bring it further into line with modern conservation principles.

Under the IWC ban, which has been in operation since 1984, no commercial whaling can take place – but there are a few loopholes. Norway and Iceland continue to defy the moratorium through technical objections, and Japan circumvents the ban by conducting whale hunts for scientific research. Russia also has a form of exemption from the ban that it does not exercise, and a few indigenous groups are granted rights for subsistence whaling.

The ongoing tensions at the IWC demonstrate the difficulties of global conservation, even over iconic species.

Japan's commercial whaling bid rejected by IWC
Denis BARNETT AFP Yahoo News 15 Sep 18;

Florianopolis (Brazil) (AFP) - Japan's determined bid to return to commercial whale hunting was rejected by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) Friday in a tense vote that exposed a deep split in the 72-year old organization.

Japan's vice-minister for fisheries Masaaki Taniai said he regretted the vote's outcome, and threatened Tokyo's withdrawal from the 89-member body if progress could not be made towards a return to commercial whaling.

"If scientific evidence and diversity is not respected, if commercial whaling is completely denied ... Japan will be pressed to undertake a fundamental reassessment of its position as a member of the IWC," he said.

Anti-whaling nations led by Australia, the European Union and the United States, defeated Japan's "Way Forward" proposal in a 41 to 27 vote.

Japan had sought consensus for its plan but had been forced to push the proposal to a vote "to demonstrate the resounding voices of support" for a return to sustainable whaling for profit, said Taniai.

Pacific and Caribbean island nations as well as Nicaragua and several African countries, including Morocco, Kenya and Tanzania, voted with Japan, as did Asian nations Laos and Cambodia. Korea abstained.

- 'Sharp split' -

The Russian Federation, which like several states allows aboriginal subsistence whaling, said it abstained because "this vote showed a sharp split within the Commission. Our worry is not to split the Commission too far and that's why we abstained."

The IWC was set up in 1946 to conserve and manage the world's whale and cetacean population. It introduced a moratorium on commercial whaling in 1986 after some species had been fished to near extinction. Japan insists whale stocks have sufficiently recovered to allow commercial hunting to resume.

Tokyo currently observes the moratorium but exploits a loophole to kill hundreds of whales every year for "scientific purposes" as well as to sell the meat.

Norway and Iceland ignore the moratorium and are key supporters of Japan's bid to resume commercial whaling.

A Japanese withdrawal would have far-reaching consequences for the organization, given support from a growing number of developing states in the IWC.

They say the IWC's mandate is both to conserve and manage -- meaning to sustainably hunt -- recovering whale stocks, but that the emphasis within the organization has leant too far towards conservation, leaving pro-whaling nations without a voice.

Taniai said the vote result "can be seen as equivalent to the denial of the possibility for governments with different views to coexist with mutual understanding and respect within the IWC."

Australia's commissioner Nick Gales rejected "the narrative of underlying dysfunction and intolerance" suggested by Japan.

He urged Tokyo to remain in the organization "to continue to argue for its view and work constructively with all members."

- Way Forward or Way Out -

Japan's "Way Forward" including the establishment of a "Sustainable Whaling Committee" within the IWC, and a "Diplomatic Conference of Contracting Governments" to amend the body's voting rules, changing them from requiring a two-thirds majority to a simple majority.

Anti-whaling NGOs cheered the result, but it seems clear from the week-long meeting in the surfing resort of Florianopolis that Japan's impatience with its fellow members in a sharply divided IWC is growing.

Kitty Block, head of the animal charity Humane Society International, said "the IWC's moral compass" had led it to reject Japan's proposal.

"It's clear from exchanges this week that those countries here fighting for the protection of whales are not prepared to have the IWC's progressive conservation agenda held hostage to Japan's unreasonable whaling demands."

To add insult to injury from Japan's point of view, the IWC adopted Brazil's "Florianopolis Declaration" which envisages whale protection in perpetuity.

And Glenn Inwood, of Opes Oceani, a company that analyses developments in the use of ocean resources, says there is no longer much of an economic or political case for Japan remaining in the body.

"Japan invests tens of millions of dollars each year into its whaling activities but gains very little from the IWC despite being its biggest benefactor," said Inwood, a former spokesman for the Japanese delegation.

Support in the wake of Friday's vote "is increasingly difficult to justify," he said.

"We learned from the United States' decision on the Paris Accord that countries are willing to revisit support for international agreements that aren't in sync with their national interests.”

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