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January 19, 2012

Catch shares for whales? Scientists' protection proposal stirs firestorm

Writing in the latest issue of "Nature," a trio of scientists — two of whom are associated with NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco's longtime advocacy for catch share fisheries — have proposed a similar "catch and trade" allocation policy to help bring to an end commercial whaling.

The authors, Christopher Costello, Leah R. Gerber and Steven Gaines, argue that, by allocating whale shares to nations based on "historical whaling patterns ... transactions would reduce the number of whales harvested, quite possibly to zero, unlike existing protocols (that) seem to be increasing the catches."

In the Jan. 12 Nature article, headlined "A market approach to saving the whales," the authors explain that, by their estimates, global profits from commercial whaling of $31 million were nearly matched by the expenses, $25 million, of anti-whaling activism.

Moreover, considering what they said were current market prices — $13,000 for a minke whale to $85,000 for a humpback — under a catch share market for whales, "whale prices should therefore be within reach of conservation groups and even some individuals" to gain control of the harvest.

"Whalers would be suitably compensated," they wrote, "and because trades are voluntary, the market would have the potential to make all parties better off, and simultaneously improve whale conservation."

This signal step — adding whales to the global commodity investment market — lies at the heart of the case for gaining control of and gradually reducing commercial whaling.

Writing in 2008 for then-President-elect Obama, Gaines and Costello — together with Lubchenco — helped coauthor a script for converting fisheries to the catch share management system that is now effect in New England and elsewhere.

But their pamphlet, "Oceans of Abundance," neglected to discuss how linking fisheries — which remain largely locally- and operator-owned — into global investment commodities trading also exposes them to acquisition and control by external interests.

In the Nature piece, Costello, Gerber and Gaines' claim of an expanding commercial market for whales is difficult to corroborate. But one website, cosponsored by the Humane Society International and two other conservation groups, indicates commercial whaling has remained level at about 500 cetaceans a year for more than a decade.

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