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The report of the IWC Virtual Special Meeting is published today.

A Special Meeting was called because the Covid-19 pandemic forced the Commission to delay its in-person biennial, IWC68, which is now scheduled to take place in October 2022.  The virtual meeting took place over two days at the beginning of September and focused only on urgent matters which could not be delayed for a year.

Budgetary issues were high on the agenda and the Commission agreed a single-year ‘bridge budget.’ This is the second consecutive bridge budget required due to Covid-19.  As agreed last year, the budget for 2021-22 contains no increase in member government contributions and no new initiatives.  Its aim is simply to ensure the continuation of ongoing work programmes.

The Commission received an update on the longer-term aims of the Budgetary Sub-Committee (BSC) to correct the budget deficit and bring IWC financial management in-line with international best practice.  The BSC provided a summary of its work to-date and encouraged member governments to engage now, and provide input into proposals that will be prepared for discussion at IWC68.

Progressing in parallel to financial reform are proposals from the Working Group on Operational Effectiveness (WG-OE) to improve the IWC’s governance structure and processes.  An update and timeframe for this initiative was also received and wider engagement again encouraged. 

The impact of Covid-19 on IWC payment schedules, arrears and voting status was the subject of considerable debate.  The Commission agreed that the financial pressures of the pandemic were unprecedented, and exacerbated in developing countries.

In response to this difficult situation, the WG-OE was asked to develop a new document on handling of payment schedules, arrears and voting rights in relation to the pandemic.  It was agreed that no votes will be held until this issue is brought for resolution before the Commission, at or before IWC68.  

The Commission reiterated appeals from both the Budgetary Sub-committee and the Working Group on Operational Effectiveness for member governments to fully participate in all current initiatives related to finance and governance.  It was stressed that all members have an ongoing opportunity to engage, express views and influence these important proposals.

During the meeting, non-governmental organisations announced new voluntary contributions totalling over £32,000. The 13 contributing organisations were thanked for their support. Voluntary funding supports a wide array of activities in the IWC including bycatch mitigation, entanglement response, small cetacean research and Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling.  It was noted that the Commission has established clear and formal regulations to ensure voluntary funding is allocated only to work programmes already endorsed by the IWC.  

Prior to the virtual meeting, the Commission agreed to postpone discussions on substantial issues of policy until in-person discussions are possible, but an exception was made for the plight of the vaquita.  The vaquita is a small porpoise found only in Mexican waters in the upper Gulf of California.  For decades, the Scientific Committee of the IWC has warned that action must be taken to remove gillnets which have led to a dramatic decline in numbers.  The vaquita now faces imminent extinction unless the illegal fishing is stopped and policed, and the nets are removed.

Already the subject of an IWC Resolution, the Commission agreed to write again to the Government of Mexico offering support for efforts already undertaken and calling for urgent action to stop gillnetting in a ‘no-take zone,’ that has been established to protect the vaquita.

The virtual meeting also received updates from the Scientific and Conservation Committees and the Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling Sub-committee.  All were able to report progress despite the exceptional challenges of the pandemic.

The meeting closed with the sincere hope that the Commission could return to a full agenda and in-person meeting in 2022.

Click to read the Report of the IWC 2021 Virtual Special Meeting.