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GOVERNMENT OF ICELAND ANNOUNCES WITHDRAWAL FROM THE INTERNATIONAL WHALING COMMISSION

 GOVERNMENT OF ICELAND ANNOUNCES WITHDRAWAL
 FROM THE INTERNATIONAL WHALING COMMISSION
 REYKJAVIK, Iceland, Dec. 27 /PRNewswire/ -- The government of Iceland announced today that it will give notice of withdrawal from the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling. Under the terms of the convention, withdrawal will take effect on June 30, 1992. The government pointed out that no decision had been taken concerning a resumption of whaling activities by Icelandic nationals, and that the first priority would be the establishment of a regional organization for the effective conservation and rational management of whales in the North Atlantic Ocean.
 The decision to withdraw from the IWC was based, foremost, on the conclusion that the organization had ceased to act in accordance with the management principles of the International Whaling Convention and with the weight of scientific evidence. It was particularly noted that the International Whaling Commission had frequently disregarded the advice of its own scientific committee, wherein the health of major populations of whales, including certain stocks in the North Atlantic Ocean, had been demonstrated.
 In his remarks on the decision of the Icelandic government to withdraw from the IWC, the minister of fisheries stated: "The economic and social fabric of this island nation is overwhelmingly dependent on the health and productivity of the surrounding marine environment. Whales have an important ecological role in the Icelandic Exclusive Economic Zone; they consume more than the amount of seafood that our fishermen harvest. Whales must, therefore, be treated in the same manner as other resources, subject to the same management principles."
 The fisheries minister went on to state: "It should not be difficult to understand why this government must respond to the grim reality that the International Whaling Commission is no longer a viable forum for international cooperation on the conservation and management of the whale populations in our region. It is clear that Iceland has no choice but to seek cooperation in this field through the establishment of a new organization for the North Atlantic."
 In announcing its withdrawal from the International Whaling Convention, the government of Iceland emphasized that it would respect the object and purpose of the 1982 Convention on the Law of the Sea relating to the cooperative management of whales through appropriate international organizations.
 The Icelandic government considered that the record of the International Whaling Commission in recent years held out no prospect for an improved approach to conservation and management. The fisheries minister stated: "The Icelandic government concluded not only that the commission would continue to ignore the longstanding management provisions of the convention, but also that the organization would refuse to adopt more modern principles of living marine resource management in the future. The government considered that the IWC would insist upon adherence to an approach that fails to address the need for effective conservation and management of the growing whale populations as important elements of the marine ecosystem."
 "In sum," the minister of fisheries said, "the Icelandic government concluded that the IWC is, and will remain, an anachronistic and ineffective organization."
 The government of Iceland reaffirmed the importance it attaches to effective environmental protection. At the same time, the government of Iceland cautions against one-sided attitudes in favor of restrictive protection of individual animal stocks without regard to the broader implications for the marine ecosystems. There are very few nations for which an unpolluted ocean is more important. The government of Iceland will therefore continue to work actively for the conservation of the oceans and their ecosystems, and will to that end cooperate with nations which share that aim.
 Questions and Answers Concerning Iceland's Decision
 to Leave the International Whaling Commission
 1. Why has Iceland decided to leave the International Whaling Commission?
 Iceland has been a member of the commission since its inception in 1948. The original reasons for membership were clear. The purpose of the organization was to ensure the conservation and rational management of whale stocks and the orderly development of the whaling industry. The purpose, in other words, was to ensure a responsible harvest of whale stocks, in order that whales would remain an important part of the ocean's renewable resources.
 In its early years, the commission was unable to prevent overexploitation, particularly in the southern oceans. Later, however, the commission succeeded in preventing catches from endangered whale stocks.
 In recent years a protectionist policy has been applied even to stocks that have been regarded to be in healthy condition. Thus, a policy of rational management of whales as renewable resources has been replaced by a demand for complete protection of whale stocks which has no legitimate basis in scientific evidence or conservation principles. It may indeed be argued that the extreme protectionist policy during the past few years has diverted attention from the real environmental problems facing man. These include the massive pollution of the oceans by industrialized nations.
 The reasons for Iceland's withdrawal from the International Whaling Commission can be summarized as follows:
 a) Instead of a policy of rational management, the IWC has increasingly emphasized anti-utilization, a policy that directly contradicts the stated purposes of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling. This policy has disregarded both scientific and conservation principles, and has failed to take into account the vital economic and social interests of the people of the northernmost areas of the world. It must be emphasized that these people are overwhelmingly dependent on the conservation and utilization of the living resources of the marine environment.
 b) Iceland has made a very substantial contribution to whale research, which was expected to be one of the bases of the commission's review in 1990 of the 1982 decision on the temporary cessation of commercial whaling. The commission has refused to take action on scientifically justified proposals for this review at its annual meetings in both 1990 and 1991.
 c) The research by Icelandic and international scientists has demonstrated beyond a doubt that a number of whale stocks can sustain considerable harvesting. Against this background, Iceland has requested a limited catch quota, but the IWC has refused even to discuss Iceland's proposal.
 d) It thus appears that an objective assessment of whale stocks, and management based on science, are not on the commission's agenda today, and that a politically based protectionist philosophy dominates the process. The unwillingness of the commission to consider the way of life of the inhabitants of the northernmost regions, based on the conservation and management of all the living resources of the oceans, is a fact that cannot be ignored. It is obvious that whales play a significant role in the ecosystem in the waters off Iceland. It is, therefore, incumbent upon us to treat whales in the same manner as all other living resources, that is, as being subject to the same scientifically based conservation and management principles.
 2. Does this decision mean that Iceland will resume whaling in 1992?
 No. Although the status of certain whale stocks is such that they could sustain limited harvests, there are no plans to commence whaling in 1992. Iceland firmly believes that whales should be managed in cooperation with other nations and in accordance with Iceland's international obligations. Iceland will therefore seek such cooperation in the most appropriate manner.
 3. What whale stocks could sustain harvesting in the view of Icelandic scientists?
 In recent years, whale research in the North Atlantic has been greatly enhanced. The assessment agreed in the IWC Scientific Committee in 1990 was that the minke whale stock in the East Greenland-Iceland-Jan Mayen area numbered 28,000 animals during the summer season. Thus, the past harvests in Icelandic waters were well within the sustainable limits of the stock. The Scientific Committee of the IWC correctly recommended that the stock be classified as an initial management stock, which is appropriate for a limited harvest.
 For fin whales, the conclusion of the Scientific Committee in 1991 was that 15,000 to 16,000 animals inhabited the area between Jan Mayen and East Greenland. Icelandic scientists have therefore concluded that the stock can sustain significant catches, as have occurred over the past 40 years.
 4. Are there any endangered whale stocks off Iceland?
 No stocks which have been harvested off Iceland in recent decades are endangered. The northern right whale, which was plentiful off Iceland in past centuries, was hunted relentlessly by distant-water fleets from both sides of the Atlantic, so that by the beginning of this century the stock had become extremely weak. Icelanders did not take part in this whaling.
 The overexploitation of great whales in Icelandic waters by foreign enterprises at the beginning of this century focused on fin whales, blue whales, and humpback whales, with the result that the stocks were greatly diminished. The situation in Icelandic waters today is the result of conservation measures beginning with a whaling ban adopted by the Icelandic Parliament as early as 1916. The fin whale stock is in good condition. The blue whale, which has been protected in the waters around Iceland for the past 30 years, increases at a rate of 5 percent per year, and the humpback, which has been protected since 1955, shows more than a 10 percent annual increase. The fin whales, blue whales and humpback whales are therefore no longer endangered.
 5. What kind of organization would be able to manage whale stocks?
 It is necessary to establish a multinational organization to safeguard Iceland's vital interest as a fishing nation. Such an organization must have as its guiding principles the effective conservation and rational utilization of renewable resources. it must also take into account the effect of whales on other marine resources, as well as ensure the future health of the whale stocks as important components of the marine ecosystem.
 Instead of a single-species approach to management, it is necessary to take account of such ecological aspects as competition of species for food, as well as other factors, which organizations such as the IWC are incapable of considering. It is important that whale management be coordinated with overall fisheries management in any ocean area.
 It is, therefore, necessary and appropriate to work towards establishment of a regional organization covering the North Atlantic, with particular emphasis on the northernmost areas, where marine mammals are plentiful and where management challenges are shared. Cooperation should be sought with our closest neighboring countries, all of which have participated in annual conferences held since 1988 on the conservation and rational utilization of marine mammals in the North Atlantic. The idea of a regional organization has already been discussed at these conferences.
 6. Is Iceland concerned that its decision to leave the IWC will affect the sale of its fisheries products?
 From our experience during 1986-1989, when we took a limited number of whales for scientific research purposes, we can expect that whale protection activists will seek to capitalize on Iceland's withdrawal from the IWC. On the other hand, it must be noted that Iceland has not decided to resume whaling, and withdrawal from the IWC alone can hardly be used as a pretext for measures directed against Icelandic products.
 All nations are entitled to join the IWC and are likewise free to withdraw in accordance with the convention. Indeed, many members have chosen to withdraw over the years, and more than 100 nations have decided not to become members.
 -0- 12/27/91
 /CONTACT: Gudmundir Eiriksson, ambassador, 354-1-609900, or Charles Pucie of Capitoline International Group, Ltd., 202-467-3900, for the Iceland Ministry of Fisheries/ CO: Iceland Ministry of Fisheries ST: IN: SU:


SB -- DC005 -- 5496 12/27/91 13:59 EST
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