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4 THE WORM TURNS THE IWC’S REINTERPRETATION OF UNCERTAINTY C hapter 3 discussed the circumstances that led up to the collapse of the Antarctic stocks and also much of the industry that relied upon them, with particular emphasis on how the use of scientific uncertainty arguments declined as empirical evidence of overhunting became more and more convincing. With catches dropping on a yearly basis, and also the Committee of Three providing much more detail than ever before on the status of the Antarctic stocks, the need for a significant reduction of the Antarctic quota was, by 1963, no longer disputed in the IWC. But this situation did not prevent some in the commission—most notably Japan, the Soviet Union, and to a lesser degree the Netherlands— from seeking to delay the adoption of the SC and COT’s recommendations , which, in addition to slashing the Antarctic quota, included abandoning the BWU, adopting species-by-species quotas, and providing complete protection for all blue and humpback whale stocks. These delays initially were justified by the need to avoid further controversy at the 1962 meeting, following the discord that earlier had erupted over the national quotas debacle. Then, at the 1963 meeting, further delays occurred and were attributed to the commission’s 1960 commitment to bring the Antarctic catch limit “into line with the scientific findings [of the COT] not later than 31st of July, 1964”1—a deadline that enabled the Japanese, Soviet, and Dutch commissioners to resist the COT scientists ’ January 1963 recommendations for an immediate reduction in catches for another year. But as the 1964 meeting loomed, these governments— the only members, with the exception of Norway, still operating pelagic whaling fleets in the Antarctic—were running out of reasons for resisting drastic cuts in the Antarctic quota for the 1964–65 season. It was 107 increasingly likely that the now named Committee of Four (COF) would reiterate its earlier findings and also provide further warnings for sei and pygmy blue whale stocks. There did remain two ways of rationalizing further delays in the implementation of the COT’s recommendations, neither of which were unfamiliar to the commission by this stage. The first was simply to plead that cuts of the magnitude recommended would ruin what remained of the Antarctic whaling industries, an often-heard argument when the Antarctic nations were confronted with advice claiming the need to catch fewer whales. The second involved resurrecting uncertainty arguments, but applying them in a different way than before. The strategy, in terms of using uncertainty to resist scientific advice calling for unwanted hunting limits, became not to dispute the necessity of reducing the quota (as had been the case for much of the 1950s), but rather to use uncertainty to dispute the size of the reductions needed. As was indicated in the final section of chapter 3, the recommendations put forward by the COF—in an additional report requested by the commission at the 1963 meeting and completed in June 1964—received a less than enthusiastic reception from the remaining Antarctic nations at the 1964 meeting. The recommendations were subsequently opposed using a carefully blended mix of arguments pointing to both the imminent threat of financial ruin and the uncertainty that (inevitably) existed over the extent to which catch reductions needed to be made. Thus, the IWC’s treatment of scientific uncertainty at the 1964 meeting marked the beginning of a change in perceptions among the commission ’s members as to how uncertainty should be understood and accounted for—hitherto, uncertainty had been invoked only to support industry interests when evidence of overhunting lacked detailed analysis or was subject to alternative interpretations. This transformation in attitude would, by the late 1970s, result in a complete about-face in terms of the role played by uncertainty in the creation of IWC policies. The issue of most significance, in terms of sign-posting the onset of this attitude change, was the COF’s very clear exposition on the problems and long-term costs involved with waiting for incontrovertible evidence that a stock was being depleted. The gist of the COF’s position (supported by their colleagues in the SC) was that given the available data and the important role played by CPUE figures in determining stock numbers, unambiguous evidence of a stock being overhunted could only be obtained when the stock already had become depleted and the animals so scarce as to cause 108 THE...


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