Ivashchenko, Y.V. & Clapham, P.J. 2014. Too much is never enough: the cautionary tale of Soviet whaling. Marine Fisheries Review 76: 1-21.
The paper can be downloaded for free at: http://spo.nmfs.noaa.gov/
Despite being a signatory to the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (1946), the USSR conducted a 30y campaign of illegal whaling which arguably represents one of the greatest failures of management in the history of the industry. Here, using a variety of sources including published literature, formerly secret Soviet industry reports and interviews with former biologists and whalers, we provide an overview of the history, scope, and economic origins of Soviet whaling, and examine the domestic and international political context in which it was set.
At various times during the period from 1933 into the 1970’s, the USSR operated a total of seven whaling factory fleets and several shore whaling stations. We estimate that 534,119 whales were killed, of which 178,726 were not reported to the International Whaling Commission (IWC). In the Southern Hemisphere, the greatest impact of these catches was on humpback whales, Megaptera novaeangliae, where (mostly illegal) takes of more than 48,000 whales precipitated a population crash and closure of shore whaling stations in Australia and New Zealand. The Southern Hemisphere also saw large illegal catches of southern right whales (Eubalaena australis). In the North Pacific, the greatest impacts were on sperm whales, Physeter macrocephalus, (where data on sex and length were routinely misreported together with falsified total catches), as well as on the two already-small populations of right whales, Eubalaena japonica, across the North Pacific and bowhead whales, Balaena mysticetus, in the Okhotsk Sea.
Soviet whaling was driven by the state industrial planning system, which frequently set high production targets without regard to the ability of the resource to sustain the resulting large catches. We trace the evolution of the USSR’s public stance at the IWC while the nation was illegally whaling, and summarize its evolving positions on major issues, including catch limits, national quotas, the status of whale populations, and the International Observer Scheme (which the USSR opposed for many years, for reasons that are now obvious). We examine the ways in which the USSR and other nations exploited weaknesses in the Convention to block or delay decisions unfavorable to the industry.
It is clear that many at IWC knew that the USSR was whaling illegally, but they were probably unaware of the large scope of this activity. It is also clear that the Soviets were not alone in falsification of catch data, a problem which underscores the inadequacy of the IWC’s existing procedures for inspection and enforcement with regard to current and possible future commercial whaling.
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