Fishing Industry Defender Goes on the Defensive

National Fisherman Magazine Bureau Chief Issues Bizarre Accusation that Sea Shepherd is Controlling the Bush Administration's Policy on Fisheries and Whaling.

The following article was published in the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram on June 15, 2003. Here's the super-duper desperate silly spin quote of the month:

"These countries veto the request not out of any science-based concern for the population of minke whales, but out of hypocritical hostility toward whaling itself, whipped up by groups like Greenpeace and the Sea Shepherd Society." -Dexter Van Zile, Northeast Bureau Chief of National Fisherman magazine

Sunday, June 15, 2003

By Dexter Van Zile

Copyright © 2003 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc

[Blue color comments by Captain Paul Watson, and prefaced by "PW"]

The Pew Oceans Commission, an 18-member panel of policy and science experts, recently issued a 166-page report on the state of the world's oceans and the governmental changes needed to protect marine ecosystems.

While commercial fishermen in the United States have criticized the report for manufacturing a crisis, the report will likely set the agenda for ocean policy in the United States - and the rest of the world - for years to come.

PW: And rightfully so. The Pew Report, coupled with recently related independent Canadian and German studies, reveals a 90% decrease in major fish species populations over the last thirty years. Of course the fishing industry, the cause of this destruction, are critical of the report. This is like the Ku Klux Klan being critical of a report on their activities issued by the NAACP.

One recommendation of the report that garnered sustained applause from environmentalists is that managers take scientific data, not politics, into account when setting harvest levels. U.S. law already requires the use of the best available science in fisheries management. It's still a convenient principle for environmentalists to invoke, however, because scientific data typically justify reducing the harvest of marine resources. (For sure, this assumption has been accurate for some high-profile U.S. fisheries - such as groundfish in New England - although there is evidence of recovery in this and other fisheries.)

PW: This is a very strange paragraph. Van Zile seems to be saying that basing judgments on scientific data is unacceptable. He accuses environmentalists of using science as a "convenient principle to evoke." He admits that the science justifies the conservation position.

One question facing decision-makers, however, is what happens when the science indicates that a harvest can be increased or resumed after it has been stopped?

If events at the International Whaling Commission are any indication, it's difficult, if not impossible, to relax harvest restrictions once they've been imposed. Politics, condemned by environmentalists when stocks are in trouble, remains a problem when they're doing fine.

PW: The only "scientific evidence" available to justify whaling is the work of biased industry employed or Japanese and Norwegian government employed "scientists." I call them biostitutes. The International Whaling Commission (IWC) has a scientific committee. The IWC acts upon the advice of the scientific committee and not on the advice of industry or biased government research.

This unpleasant reality is demonstrated every time environmentalists oppose Japan's efforts to obtain an exemption from the international ban on the commercial harvest of whales. Nearly every year since the IWC ban on commercial whaling took effect in the 1980s, Japan has asked the organization for an exemption similar to one given to the Inuit Indians in Alaska, and, more recently, the Makah in Washington state.

PW: The Makah were never granted an exemption to whale. The proposed Makah hunt did not meet the IWC rules established for aboriginal whaling, specifically that the hunt must be for subsistence and must be an unbroken tradition. The IWC did not grant a quota to the Makah. The United States traded Bowheads from the IWC allotted quota on Bowheads in Alaska with the Russians for their IWC approved quota on Gray whales. The Makah hunt has also been shut down due to a ruling by the 9th District Court of Appeal that the Makah hunt is a violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The Inuit were given their exemption back in 1946 when the IWC was established. They had never stopped whaling. The Makah and the Japanese did stop whaling and their tradition died. There are no provisions within the IWC regulations for approving a revival of a long lost tradition of whaling. If there were, the whaling community of Nantucket could apply for an exemption.

Through an IWC exemption given to native peoples, the Inuit are allowed to harvest 67 bowhead whales out of a population of 9,000 worldwide. The Makah may harvest five gray whales a year out of a population of 25,000. (By way of comparison, the Japanese are asking that inhabitants of four coastal whaling communities be allowed to harvest 300 minke whales out of a worldwide population of close to a million.)

PW: There is no reliable data on bowhead populations, and the figure of 9,000 is exaggerated by Van Zile. He also exaggerates the gray whale population. It is estimated at between 21,000 and 22,000. He also ignores that the Russians kill over 200 gray whales each year. There are also no reliable estimates on minke whale populations. The figure of one million used by Van Zile is a fantastic exaggeration. Minke whale numbers are listed as unknown by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

The exemptions are given to the Makah and the Inuit in an effort to allow them to preserve their cultural heritage and, in the case of the Inuit, provide an important source of food.

PW: Once again there have been no exemptions granted to the Makah by the IWC. Repeating this lie does not make it the truth.

In response to Japan's request (made on behalf of about 100 whalers who own a total of five boats and whose ancestors have been whaling and selling their catch for centuries), a coalition of approximately 20 anti-whaling nations, led by the United States, votes "no."

These countries veto the request not out of any science-based concern for the population of minke whales, but out of hypocritical hostility toward whaling itself, whipped up by groups like Greenpeace and the Sea Shepherd Society. With the help of the U.S. State Department, the IWC has been hijacked by animal rights activists and radical environmentalists to enforce a ban on commercial whaling.

PW: This of course is the most paranoid and delusional accusation in Van Zile's very strange and misinformed article. Does he really believe that Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd have influence with the U.S. State Department? Is he suggesting that Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd control the U.S. government's position? He accuses us of hijacking the IWC. This is hilarious. The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has been banned from attending the IWC since 1986, the year we sank half the Icelandic whaling fleet. Greenpeace holds no influence with the IWC. In fact, it is the Japanese who have been buying votes by recruiting small island nations, giving them aid and paying their membership fees to vote in the IWC.

The ban may have been justified to protect some species, such as the blue and right whales, which still haven't recovered. But several species included in the ban have always been numerous enough to support a harvest. This notion has been confirmed by IWC scientists, who acknowledge that there are enough minke whales in the ocean to sustain a regulated harvest.

PW: Van Zile's statement may have had some credibility if he had named these IWC scientists to which he refers. He did not. The only "IWC" scientists who agree with this thesis are the pro-whaling nation scientists.

Nevertheless, the ban remains in place on all species, the minke included, because of political pressure from environmentalists in North America and Europe. They argue that killing whales is a threat to the environment and immoral. In reality, the data show that the harvest of whales is not a threat to the environment. And as far as morality is concerned, what right does a comfortable class of environmentalists from Europe and the United States have to impose its view of what's right to eat on the Japanese?

PW: No, Mr. Van Zile, the data does not justify the continued slaughter of the whales. The commercial moratorium was brought in because whale populations of all species had been critically over-exploited. Morality has never been a determining factor in IWC decisions. Also, Van Zile seems to be suggesting that the Japanese are some sort of poor third world nation that will starve if they can't kill whales. Talk about spin and misinformation.

Fortunately, the United States has started to shift its position, but not far enough. Last year, a State Department representative said the United States would support Japan's request for an exemption at the upcoming IWC meeting that begins Monday. But the support is based on the condition that the meat harvested not be sold for cash, but kept for consumption.

PW: This is interesting. The request for the exemption is based on cultural and subsistence needs and the United States imposes a condition that the whale meat be used for cultural and subsistence needs and the Japanese protest the condition. This statement underlines the concern of conservationists that so called "cultural and subsistence" whaling is simply a mask for commercial whaling.

On the face of it, this requirement may seem justified, given that the same restriction is in place against the Makah and the Inuit. But if the goal is to allow people to maintain their cultural traditions - as it is with the Makah and the Inuit - coastal whalers should be allowed to sell the meat for cash, just as they have for centuries.

PW: And there we have it. It's all about money. That's all it has ever been about.

In any case, the ban on the sale of whale meat lacks scientific justification. If we truly believe the management of ocean resources should be based on science, not politics - as the Pew Commission says we should - it's time for the Bush administration to prod the IWC into allowing Japan's whalers to harvest a limited number of whales and sell the meat.

PW: Now Van Zile is saying the Bush Administration should be proactive in encouraging the IWC to allow commercial whaling by Japan. He still does not demonstrate what scientific evidence is available to support the position that whale numbers are sufficient to justify whaling. He mentions the Pew report but ignores the findings of the report that illustrates the extent of diminishment in the oceans, a diminishment that includes the whales.

Issues of diplomacy, fair play and the preservation of international law also must be acknowledged. Given the abundance of the whales in question and the willingness to allow other groups to harvest whales, the best explanation for opposition toward Japan's request for an exemption is vestigial hostility toward the country's behavior in World War II. Admittedly, Japan behaved shamefully during the 1930s and '40s, but the country has become a resilient democracy and a close ally of the United States in its efforts to contain China, and, more recently, North Korea.

PW: It appears that Mr. Van Zile is a hired public relations gun for the Japanese. This old canard of anti-Japanese sentiment from World War II has been tossed out for a half a century whenever Japan seeks to justify itself. Huber says the United States is willing to allow other groups to kill whales but does not mention who these other groups are. In fact the United States has shown no favoritism in its position on whaling and has condemned Norway, Iceland and Canada for whaling unlawfully. There is also no scientific justification for Huber's statement stating that whales are abundant.

By doing the bidding of Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd, the United States carries water for radicals who dishonestly argue that any harvest (however small) of any whale species (no matter how numerous) is a threat to the environment. If the IWC continues to base its policy on this assertion, Japan and other whaling nations, such as Norway and Iceland, are likely to withdraw from the organization altogether (as the IWC treaty allows) and engage in whaling - without international oversight.

PW: My crew, our directors, advisors, and members will all find the suggestion that the United States is doing the bidding of Sea Shepherd and Greenpeace to be hilarious. This one ridiculous statement reveals Van Zile to be a delusional and overly emotional advocate for the killing of whales. He has revealed himself as a fanatic and completely lacking in credibility. He also says that if Japan, Norway, and Iceland do not get what they want lawfully, they will take what they want unlawfully.

By supporting Japan's request for the exemption, the Bush administration will help preserve the IWC as a body capable of managing ocean resources; demonstrate its commitment to science-based management of marine resources; and convey to the Japanese that the United States knows who its friends are. One policy, three goals. Not a bad day's work.

[End of Van Zile's Story]

PW: Earlier, Van Zile states that the United States does the bidding of Sea Shepherd and Greenpeace now he says that the Bush administration should do the bidding of Japan. This cannot be possible if the United States and the IWC have been hijacked as Van Zile is telling the public. But of course, he does not believe this. His real agenda is to manipulate the media and the public towards his pro-Japanese whaling objectives. What he is really saying here is that unless the United States supports Japanese whaling, he will consider the United States position to be unscientific, a threat to the IWC, and a threat to American and Japanese relations.

What is amazing about this article is that Van Zile begins with the acknowledgment that the Pew Report will set the agenda for ocean policy for years to come, and then dismisses the report entirely to lobby on behalf of the Japanese whaling industry. He provides no details from the report, a report that is in opposition to his advocacy, and he provides no scientific data from the IWC to back up his hysterical claims that the IWC has been hijacked and the United States is under the spell of Sea Shepherd and Greenpeace.

In publishing this drivel, the Portland Press Herald has exposed itself as a shoddy excuse for journalism. At last, a place where Jason Blair can hang his hat and feel at home. If the facts are not available, replace with fabrications and sensational accusations.

Excuse me, I'll place a call to the U.S. State Department to tell them to get their ass out of Iraq and to leave the whales alone. I believe Mr. Powell is awaiting my call and ready to do my bidding.

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Dexter Van Zile is the Northeast bureau chief of National Fisherman Magazine.

Paul Watson is Founder and President of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.