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Background - the 'Moratorium' and Revised Management Procedure (RMP)

In 1982, the IWC decided by majority vote to implement a pause or ‘moratorium’ in commercial whaling with full effect from 1986.  There were a number of factors involved in this decision. These included difficulties in agreeing what catch limits to set due to scientific uncertainties in the information needed to apply the management procedure then in place, and differing attitudes to the acceptability of whaling. The wording of the moratorium decision implied that with improved scientific knowledge in the future, it might be possible to set catch limits other than zero for certain stocks.

After the moratorium decision was taken, the Commission asked the Scientific Committee to develop a new management procedure for commercial whaling. At the outset of this work,  the Scientific Committee recognised the need to develop management objectives and procedures that learnt from its previous difficulties, and in particular recognised the limitations of both the data it had and the data it was likely to obtain. It spent eight years developing the Revised Management Procedure (RMP), a scientifically robust method of setting safe catch limits for certain stocks (groups of whales of the same species living in a particular area) where the numbers are plentiful.

  • Click here for detailed information on the RMP.

Work to develop the Revised Management Scheme (RMS)

Given the scientific advance of the RMP which has been accepted by the Commission, there has been pressure from some countries to remove the moratorium for certain stocks of minke whales.  However, before the RMP is implemented and the moratorium on commercial whaling  lifted, the Commission has agreed that an inspection and observation scheme must be in place to  ensure that  agreed catch limits are not exceeded. It is this combination of scientific and non-scientific factors that comprises the Revised Management Scheme.  These negotiations proved extremely difficult.  In 2007 the Commission recognised that it had reached an impasse and the moratorium has remained in place.



The RMS Working Group was established in 1994 to complete work on:

  1. an effective inspection and observation scheme;
  2. arrangements to ensure that total catches over time are within the limits set under the Revised Management Scheme;
  3. incorporation into the Schedule of the specification of the Revised Management Procedure and all other elements of the Revised Management Scheme.

July 2000

Progress on this difficult issue proceeded slowly and in July 2000,  the Commission adopted a Resolution recognising that it was important for the future of the Commission that the process to complete the Revised Management Scheme (RMS) proceeded expeditiously.

Monaco February 2001

A meeting was held in Monaco from 6th – 8th February 2001 and some progress was made on:

  1. revising the section of the Schedule that deals with supervision and control;
  2. developing a text to incorporate the structure and elements of the RMS, including the Revised Management Procedure, into the Schedule.

The focus of discussions at the meeting was on the development of an effective inspection and observation scheme.  Among the issues still to be resolved were:

  1. the level of international observer coverage required;
  2. the type and level of tracking of whaling vessels required;
  3. the timing (e.g. daily, weekly) of reporting of whales hunted, struck and killed;
  4. maintenance and availability of a register of  DNA profiles of all whales killed;
  5. procedures to monitor the origins of whale products on the market;
  6. the funding of the scheme.



The report of the Monaco meeting was discussed at the 2001 Annual Meeting of the Commission held in London. Although progress was made in a number of areas, agreement was not reached on all, and the Commission agreed to establish an Expert Drafting Group (EDG) to develop a consolidated draft of two chapters of the Schedule, those relating to Supervision and Control, and those relating to Information Required.

May 2002

The Commission reviewed the work of the EDG and agreed to hold an Intersessional Commissioners' Meeting in October 2002 to forward this work.  

October 2002

At its 54th Annual Meeting, the Commission agreed to hold a special meeting of Commissioners to examine the outstanding issues required to finalise the Revised Management Scheme (RMS) for commercial whaling and to specify the future work needed to expedite its completion.

This meeting was held in Cambridge UK from 15-17 October 2002. It was chaired by Henrik Fischer (Denmark), the Vice-Chair of the Commission. At that meeting there was a valuable exchange of views and ideas on a number of difficult issues surrounding the completion of an RMS, including catch verification schemes, compliance reviews, costs, area restrictions, animal welfare data and other related issues.

Progress was made in several areas where fundamental differences have been expressed in the past. A mechanism to build on this progress was established, including the establishment of three special working groups (on costs, catch verification and compliance). It was also agreed that a second special Commissioners' meeting should take place prior to the next Annual Meeting of the Commission in Berlin in June 2003.


April/May 2003

The working groups on catch verification and costs met in Antigua from 28-30 April and 1-3 May 2003 respectively.

The working group on catch verification followed the previous approach by the RMS Expert Drafting Group in identifying what needed to be verified, why, and how this can best be achieved (e.g. DNA registers/market sampling, Catch Document Schemes or both) in light of the objectives of the RMS and its guiding principles. Although no final consensus recommendation was reached, considerable progress was made in a number of areas and three catch verification options were put forward for consideration by the Commissioners' meeting.

The working group on costs was charged with:

  1. identifying and estimating costs of possible components of an RMS;
  2. considering how costs might be apportioned among Contracting Governments;
  3. presenting to the Commission one or more option on how RMS costs could be factored into the financial contributions scheme currently under review.

The group agreed that there were four main elements to the costs of an RMS:

  1. national inspectors;
  2. international observers;
  3. vessel monitoring systems;
  4. catch verification.

Cost estimates were developed for each element, although in relation to catch verification, estimates could only be developed for DNA registers/market sampling since no definite proposal for a Catch Document Scheme had been developed. The group believed it had achieved as much as it could given the uncertainties involved.

The working group on compliance worked initially via email correspondence but did meet briefly in Berlin. It made progress in resolving areas on which there had previously been no agreement and was able to put forward recommendations to the private Commissioners' meeting.


June 2003

The second special Commissioners' meeting took place on 12-13 June 2003 in Berlin. It was again chaired by Henrik Fischer. The meeting received the reports from the three working groups as well as:

  1. information from the Workshop on Whaling Killing Methods and Associated Issues regarding the usefulness of data proposed by the UK in assessing whale killing methods;
  2. a report from the Scientific Committee particularly in relation to the management implications in terms of risk and yield of restricting whaling to within EEZs or 200 miles of the coast - a question posed by the Commission in 2002.

It also gave some consideration to what a final RMS 'package' might constitute. Although some progress had been made intersessionally, there was no consensus on whether progress to date had been sufficient.

The Commission agreed to establish an intersessional group of Commissioners' under the new Chair (Henrik Fischer) to explore ways to take the RMS forwards.


The Chair’s group comprised Denmark, Iceland, Japan, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and the USA. Ireland had been invited but was not able to take part due to commitments in relation to its presidency of the EU starting in January 2004. The group met at the Secretariat’s offices in December 2003 and again in March 2004. Based on these discussions, the Chair developed his proposals for a way forward on the RMS which included the following proposals for an RMS ‘package’:

Elements of a Proposed RMS ‘Package’ (those elements indicated with an asterisk require modification of the Schedule)

  1. RMP*: as agreed by the Scientific Committee and endorsed by the Commission.
  2. A phased-in approach to the resumption of commercial whaling*: for an initial period (e.g. 5 years after the lifting of the moratorium), commercial whaling would only be allowed in waters under national jurisdiction.
  3. National inspection and observation scheme*: as proposed by the EDG (generally, observers and inspectors on all boats where practical) with VMS on very small vessels with <24hr trips and one observer per catcher attached to a factory ship.
  4. Additional catch verification to combat IUU whaling and/or unreported bycatches (NOT to monitor trade):
    • National diagnostic DNA registers and market sampling to agreed standards (with outside review) and a procedure to allow checking of samples against the registers*
    • Resolution urging countries to institute national legislation prohibiting the import of whale products from non-IWC countries as well as from IWC countries that are non-whaling.
    • Documentation up to port of entry if importation from IWC member *.
  5. Compliance*: Compliance Review Committee with duties as developed by the RMS Expert Drafting Group and agreed by the Commission, and inclusion of Schedule text as proposed in Berlin: ‘The Compliance Review Committee reports on infringements and the seriousness of these infringements to the Commission and advises the Commission what actions, if any, to be taken’.
  6. Mechanism to apportion RMS costs among Contracting Governments*: Costs for national activities should be borne by relevant national governments, while international costs for securing transparency could be allocated in the context of the overall financial contributions scheme.
  7. Measures for the lifting of Paragraph 10(e)*: modify paragraph 10(e) such that it becomes invalid on a specific day whilst ensuring that any whaling operations are undertaken under the full RMS package (N.B. catches other than zero can only be set for species/areas the Scientific Committee provides advice for under the RMP – currently very few).
  8. Whaling under Special Permit: recognise that it is a Sovereign right under the Convention but develop a Code of Conduct.
  9. Animal welfare considerations:
    • Explicit recognition of the issue in the Schedule*: ’The hunting of whales shall be undertaken so that the hunted whale does not experience unnecessary suffering and so that people and property are not exposed to danger.’
    • Resolution focussing on improving techniques, voluntary provision of data to regular scientific workshops and possible co-operative research programmes.

The Chair’s proposals were circulated to Contracting Governments prior to the 56th Annual Meeting in Sorrento, Italy in July 2004.


The Chair’s proposal for an RMS ‘package’ was presented and discussed at the 2004 Annual Meeting. While some governments believed it provided a good basis for further work, others did not consider that it formed the basis for an agreement. Concerns expressed in relation to the Chair’s proposal included: (1) the link between adoption of an RMS and the lifting of the commercial whaling moratorium; (2) the inadequacy of the measures proposed for catch verification, animal welfare, compliance and whaling under special permit; (3) the proposal for how costs could be shared among Contracting Governments; and (4) the absence of a consideration of sanctuaries. For full details of the Chair’s proposals and the Commission’s discussions see the Chair’s Report of the 56th Annual Meeting.

After considerable discussion the Commission adopted Resolution 2004-6 on ‘Completion of the Revised Management Scheme’ by consensus. This Resolution revived formally the RMS Working Group (it last met at the 54th Annual Meeting in Shimonoseki, Japan in 2002) with the following Terms of Reference:

  1. To complete work on the RMS package, with the goal of having a finalized RMS text ready for consideration, including for possible adoption, at IWC 57, and/or to identify any outstanding policy and technical issues.
  2. To take account of delegates’ comments at IWC 56, as well as written submissions from delegates.
  3. To provide guidance to, and to review the work of, the Small Drafting Group [established under the RMS Working Group].

Resolution 2004-6 anticipated two meetings of the RMS Working Group and SDG intersessionally between IWC/56 and IWC/57, with a third meeting of the RMS Working Group scheduled to take place during IWC/57.


The first meeting of the RMS Working Group took place at the Strand Hotel, Borgholm, Sweden from 29 November to 1 December 2004. This was followed immediately by a 2-day meeting of the SDG. The second RMS Working Group meeting took place in Copenhagen, Denmark from 30 March to 1 April 2005. This was again followed by a 2-day meeting of the SDG.

The reports from these meetings are available to download below. Documents prepared for the meetings and listed in the reports are available from the Secretariat on request.



Chair’s report of the RMS Working Group Meetings


Annex II.D Report of the VMS Technical Specialist Group


Annex II.E Report of the Specialist Group on the DNA Register/Market Sampling Scheme Approach (SGDNA)


Annex II.F Outline of the CDS and Barcoding / Labeling Scheme


Annex II.G Possible pro forma for catch documentation as proposed by the Chair in IWC/56/26


Annex II.H Some preliminary considerations for a Code of Conduct for Scientific Permit Whaling with respect to the Chair’s proposal


Annex II.I Specialist Technical Group on Animal Welfare Report of Acting Convenor; Annex II.J Draft Resolution on Chair’s Proposal on Animal Welfare


Chair's report of the meetings of the RMS Small Drafting Group



The RMS Working Group also met during the 2005 Commission meeting to review and comment on the reports from the intersessional meetings, to review progress with further technical work, and to assess overall progress in relation to Resolution 2004-6. With respect to the latter, the Chair concluded that the Working Group was not in a position to put forward a ‘finalised RMS text ready for consideration, including for possible adoption’ at the plenary session. The Working Group therefore agreed to refer to the plenary its discussions of outstanding policy and technical issues. Click here to view The Report of RMS Working Group meeting.

In the Commission, different views remained regarding the elements that should be included in an RMS ‘package’ and on whether adoption of an RMS should be linked in any way to the lifting of the commercial whaling moratorium. Japan put forward a proposed Schedule amendment for an RMS that inter alia would have lifted the moratorium. The proposal did not attract the required three-quarter majority to be adopted (23 votes in favour, 29 against and 5 abstentions).

Discussions subsequently focused on how to continue work to develop an RMS. Two possible ways forward were presented in draft resolutions. The first proposal by Denmark and the Republic of Korea received 2 votes in favour, 26 against and 27 abstentions and was therefore not adopted. The second proposal from Germany, Ireland and South Africa received 25 votes in favour, 3 against and 28 abstentions and was therefore adopted. Through Resolution 2005-4, the Commission:

‘AGREES to hold an intersessional meeting to advance the work of the Working Group on the Revised Management Scheme (RMS) and that of the Small Drafting Group, as established by Resolution 2004-6, with particular emphasis on any outstanding issues and taking as a starting point the Group’s report to this Commission (IWC/57/RMS 3).

AGREES to hold a meeting of the RMS Working Group in connection with IWC 58 to discuss the remaining issues that must be resolved before adoption of the RMS can be considered.

AGREES to consider, if appropriate, ministerial, diplomatic, or other high-level possibilities to resolve these issues among the Contracting Governments to the Convention.’

The Commission also agreed terms of reference for a compliance working group, i.e. (1) to explore ways to strengthen compliance by analysing the range of possible legal, technical, and administrative measures available to the Commission which are consistent within the ICRW; and (2) to explore possible mechanisms to monitor and possibly address non-compliance of Contracting Governments consistent with the ICRW and international law.

The intersessional meeting of the RMS Working Group took place in Cambridge from 28 February to 2 March 2006.


The meeting took place in Cambridge, UK from 28 February to 2 March 2006 to address the issues identified in Resolution 2005-4 and review the progress with work on compliance (see above).

There was a valuable exchange of views and ideas on a number of difficult issues surrounding completion of an RMS. Some progress was made in some areas with intersessional work identified in relation to: (1) further development of a draft code of conduct for whaling under special permit; and (2) compliance. A better understanding of different governments’ perspectives was also achieved. There was no consensus on the usefulness of holding a high level meeting.

Given the nature of the discussions, the RMS Working Group agreed that further collective work should be postponed for the time being but with individual governments or groups of governments free to work together if they so choose.


The RMS Working Group met during IWC/58 to:

  1. review the intersessional work agreed on the draft code of conduct and on compliance and to assess whether further progress could be made in these areas and if so, how;
  2. consider any other intersessional activities that may have occurred;
  3. consider whether there was anything further that could be done to make progress on an RMS or whether discussions remain at an impasse; and
  4. develop recommendations as appropriate to the Commission.

With respect to a code of conduct for ‘scientific whaling’, some countries re-iterated that such a code is an essential part of the RMS process and must be binding. A number of countries stated that they believe it is premature to consider the issue of a Code of Conduct before the Scientific Committee has completed its discussions on how their procedures for reviewing special permit proposals and results can be improved. Several of these also re-iterated their view that a Code of Conduct is not acceptable to them and that the only acceptable approach is to amend the Convention and phase-out special permit catches altogether. With respect to compliance, the RMS Working Group noted a paper on options for compliance mechanisms, including enforcement, under the RMS but there was no discussion.

The RMS Working Group was unable to recommend any further collective work to develop an RMS and confirmed that discussions remain at an impasse. The Commission noted the Working Group’s report and did not identify any formal activity on the RMS for the coming year.


At last year’s Annual Meeting, the Commission accepted that an impasse had been reached at the Commission level on RMS discussions and did not identify any formal activity prior to IWC/59 in 2008. However, it noted that individual governments or groups of governments could work towards the development of an RMS during the intersessional period. This item was retained on the agenda in Anchorage to provide an opportunity for governments to report on any intersessional activities and/or to propose further work. No such reports were received and no further work on the RMS was identified.