The Legal Effect of Greenland's Unilateral Aboriginal Subsistence Whale Hunt

By Wold, Chris; Kearney, Michael D. | American University International Law Review, May 30, 2015 | Go to article overview

The Legal Effect of Greenland's Unilateral Aboriginal Subsistence Whale Hunt


Wold, Chris, Kearney, Michael D., American University International Law Review


I. INTRODUCTION

For three decades, two issues have dominated discussions within the International Whaling Commission ("IWC"): the persistence of the moratorium on commercial whaling1 and Japan's scientific research whaling2 under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling ("ICRW").3 Indeed, Japan's scientific research whaling has led, uniquely, to a television show (Whale Wars) documenting the efforts of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society to stop Japanese scientific research whaling in Antarctica,4 an episode of South Park,5 and a decision of the International Court of Justice, which ruled in March 2014 that Japan's Antarctic whaling was not for purposes of scientific research.6

Recently, however, a third issue has created controversy: aboriginal subsistence whaling ("ASW") and, in particular, Greenland's ASW. Since 1985, a large number of whales have been killed pursuant to ASW-more than 9,7007-compared to 16,039 killed pursuant to scientific research whaling permits8 and 23,484 whales killed for commercial purposes.9 The ICRW's regulations require that the number of whales killed for aboriginal subsistence align with subsistence needs; national governments are responsible for providing the IWC with evidence of the cultural, nutritional, and subsistence needs of their people.10 The IWC's Scientific Committee makes recommendations on quotas for the stocks,11 and the IWC adopts catch limits, more commonly called quotas, based on the Scientific Committee's recommendations and the advice of the IWC's ASW sub-committee. Since 1997, the IWC has set ASW quotas in five-year blocks,12 although it now sets them in six-year blocks.13

While the IWC has long recognized the importance of ASW for certain aboriginal groups, the approval of ASW quotas has sometimes met resistance. For example, the IWC has challenged Greenland's request for fin and humpback whales14 as well as the taking of humpback whales by individuals in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.15 However, the ASW debate significantly intensified in 2012 when the IWC rejected Greenland's request for an ASW quota starting with the 2013 season.16 IWC members expressed concerns over the size of the quota, Greenland's conversion factors used to calculate the yield of meat from each whale, and evidence of the commercial sale of whale meat in restaurants.17 According to a recent large-scale study of consumption patterns in Greenland, Greenland's Inuit consume approximately ten kilograms of cetacean meat per capita per year (including meat from thousands of small cetaceans, such as belugas, narwhals, and killer whales, killed each year).18 This is considerably less than twelve to thirteen kilograms of whale meat from large whales (bowhead, fin, humpback, and minke) alone that Greenland claimed in its 2012 needs statement19 and the fifteen kilograms it claimed in its 2014 need statement.20

Despite the IWC's rejection of its ASW request, Greenland unilaterally established an ASW quota for 2013 and 2014.21 Australia,22 Denmark,23 other IWC members,24 and conservationists25 argued that the IWC's rejection of Greenland's ASW quota precludes Greenland from conducting ASW in 2013 and beyond until the IWC approves a new quota. Nonetheless, Greenland allowed the hunt. The United States,26 St. Lucia,27 and the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission ("AEWC")28 have supported Greenland's actions, with the AEWC arguing that paragraph 13 of the ICRW Schedule29 allows Greenland and others to conduct ASW hunts in the absence of an IWC-approved quota. The IWC approved an ASW quota for Greenland at its 2014 meeting30 that differed from its 2012 proposal by just twelve minke whales.31 Nonetheless, the controversy has not subsided. At the 2014 meeting, Argentina, supported by Mexico, Australia, and other IWC members called on the IWC to designate Greenland's whaling as an infraction.32 If Greenland's ASW for 2013 and 2014 constitutes an infraction, then Denmark, which ratified the ICRW on Greenland's behalf,33 must punish and prosecute those engaged in the whaling. …

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