OceanCare Statement on debate about and in Antigua and Barbuda

October 21, 2022

The government of Antigua and Barbuda reacted to media reports in the Caribbean about criticism by marine conservation NGOs, including from OceanCare. The public statement by the Prime Minister stands in opposition to the initiatives by the delegation of the island state at the IWC. OceanCare issues a statement in this respect.

OceanCare would like to respond to numerous media reports and in particular to the statements made by the Cabinet of the government of Antigua and Barbuda. We note the original statement is not yet publicly available and therefore refer to the quotes in the media articles, such as released on 20th October 2022.

Quote: «A statement from the government today said: «Cabinet has NOT agreed to lift the ban on hunting of whales and is not aware of any statement which suggests otherwise.»»

We appreciate the clarification by the Cabinet and this suggests to us that the activities of the delegation of Antigua and Barbuda at the meeting of the International Whaling Commission are not in line with the mandate by the government.

The facts are:

Antigua and Barbuda was originally he sole proponent of the draft «Resolution for the Implementation of a Conservation and Management Program for Whale Stocks aimed towards the lifting of the moratorium and the orderly Development of the Whaling Industry». At the IWC meeting, St. Lucia joined as a cosponsor of this resolution.  Resolutions are one of the main mechanisms that the IWC uses at its meetings to make decisions, including defining its future work. It is clear that the intent of the Resolution was to lead to a process negotiating the framework for the resumption of commercial whaling. Also, the title of the resolution is a clear indication about its intent to lift the moratorium.

Antigua and Barbuda was also the co-sponsor, together with Cambodia, Gambia and the Republic of Guinea, the draft «Resolution Food Security». OceanCare is deeply concerned for the very real threat that hunger and poor nutrition represent for vulnerable human populations around the world. We fully acknowledge the important contribution fish resources make to achieving food security, particularly for those in coastal communities. In fact, no country within the IWC is questioning this. However, it needs to be recalled that the International Whaling Commission is not the appropriate organisation for this matter which would be more appropriate to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Furthermore, in May 2022, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) adopted a Resolution to address food insecurity in a holistic manner. Reading the IWC Food Security Resolution carefully and understanding the context of it at an IWC the wider context it is revealed that this Resolution is again an approach to fabricate a context leading to «sustainable whaling», which is simply a cover-up for whaling containing commercial elements.

Food security issues cannot be addressed without addressing the root causes of the problem such as the depletion of fish stocks as a result of over-fishing, including industrialised fishing by distant water fleets and illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU), which is the primary threat to food security of coastal communities. In this context, it is not possible to isolate food security as a stand-alone goal or to suggest that the lethal exploitation of whales should be considered as a solution or even part of such solution related to the alleviation of food security. An effective measure to combat IUU fishing, for instance, is the FAO Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter, and Eliminate IUU Fishing (PSMA). It is international, legally binding treaty with the goal to be applied widely and effectively by countries, in their capacities as port states, preventing vessels engaged in IUU fishing from using ports and landing their catches. Antigua and Barbuda is not yet a member of the PSMA and we encourage Antigua and Barbuda to become a member in the near future.

Finally, it needs to be noted that the IWC recognise the right of those indigenous communities that have a historic continued whaling practise to meet their subsistence and traditional needs and such practice has never been put in question.

Quote: «At today’s post-cabinet media briefing Ambassador Lionel Hurst, chief of staff at the Prime Minister’s Office, stated that 48 countries had proposed the resolution, which he noted is always on the IWC’s agenda at their annual convention.  «It is a permanent feature of the international whaling commission…The majority will always voted down and it is expected that this resolution will be voted down. Antigua and Barbuda has always taken a very keen interest in this subject matter,» he stated. «Our friends in Japan have taken a keen interest in this matter. But it is the way it has worked out in times past and even in this present moment that the resolution will be voted down and therefore no harm comes to the whales.»»

No Resolution put forward to the Commission at this meeting was proposed by 48 countries. It is also highly questionable to judge that a Resolution will not cause any harm to whales because it will be voted down. Why submit it in the first place? Furthermore, it should also be noted that Japan left the IWC in 2019 and is no longer a member of the IWC. The Actual Status of the Initiatives by Antigua and Barbuda at the 68th Meeting of the IWC:

Neither of these resolutions were put to the vote but they were not withdrawn and the proponents have indicated that they will bring them back to the next meeting of the Commission in two years’ time.

This leads to the question of whether the government of Antigua and Barbuda is recommitting to a process that clearly promotes pro-whaling interests and appears to be counter to the statement from the prime minister’s office.

For the record, the delegation of Antigua and Barbuda has a long record of promoting and associating itself with the initiatives by Japan within the International Whaling Commission and has not been active within, e.g., the work streams of the Conservation Committee, a Committee established within the IWC in 2004.

We recognize and support the initiative by the prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda at the United Nations General Assembly in September 2022 by urging the General Assembly to act on behalf of the small and powerless in the interest of global justice in context to providing support the initiative proposed by Vanuatu requesting the International Court of Justice to provide an advisory opinion on the obligations of States under international law to protect the rights of present and future generations against the adverse effects of climate change.

OceanCare encourages the government of Antigua and Barbuda to reposition itself within the IWC following the objectives defined within the Florianopolis Declaration which was adopted in 2018 by the IWC and to strengthen conservation initiatives protecting whales within and outside the IWC.

OceanCare is grateful that this important issue is discussed in the public domain and we are optimistic to see a clarification by the government of Antigua and Barbuda.

Selective Media Reports

Including the statement from the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda