Some environmentalists, however, attacked the plan for undermining the current whaling ban. Greenpeace whales campaigner Phil Kline said it would be impossible to distinguish between legal and illegal hunting if whaling were legalized again: “It would be safe to assume illegal whaling would flourish if a legal whaling trade was set up.”
And Patrick Ramage, director of the global whale program of International Fund for Animal Welfare, wrote in an e-mail, “While it may make sense in the classroom, it ignores the fact that commercial whaling has been banned since 1986 and that putting a price on the head of whale species in 2012 does not promote their conservation, it compromises it.”
Monica Medina, U.S. commissioner to the IWC, said in a statement that for 2012, the administration is “fully committed to retaining the moratorium on commercial whaling and to securing the subsistence quota for our indigenous whalers.”
“We agree with the authors that it would be best to end commercial whaling and we would like to break the deadlock over this issue at the IWC, however all previous efforts to do that have unfortunately failed,” said Medina, who also serves as principal deputy undersecretary for oceans and atmosphere at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Officials from Japan and Iceland declined to comment on the proposal.
The idea of a market-based trading system for commercial whaling is not unprecedented — a Canadian natural resources professor mentioned it in 1982, and a Virginia economist offered a more detailed scenario a decade ago.
Stanford University marine biologist Stephen Palumbi, who has used genetic analysis to estimate whale species’ abundance before being targeted by humans, called the idea a “great proposal” in part because “it so brazenly ignores the last five decades of useless squabbling that has embroiled the IWC.”
“It is like a new general manager of a losing football team coming in and changing the rules without any consideration of past sniping or petty bickering,” Palumbi said, although he warned that it might fail because “it runs afoul of a lot of the enshrined rights that a lot of the IWC nations have carved out for themselves.”
David Feldman, a professor of economics at the College of William and Mary who met with Japanese officials in 2001 after outlining his own market-based whale quota system, wrote in an e-mail of the new proposal, “The devil is in the details of proposals like this, and these authors have captured many of the complexities.”
While it would take further negotiations to forge a compromise, Feldman wrote, both whaling and anti-whaling nations would be better off moving to tradeable allowances: “The dance between the two sides risks destroying the IWC entirely, which would be a catastrophe for many whale species.”