The Last U. S. Whaling Company
U.S. Department of Commerce
One of the first policy issues that arose after NOAA came into existence was that of the future of American whaling. How times have changed!
I remember reading as a teenager about the future of marine resources, including the coming use of whales as a major source of our food. Our nation had a romantic whaling history – New Bedford vessels, Ahab and Moby Dick. Now we were in forefront of those calling for the elimination of all whaling. As a member of the International Whaling Commission, we had pushed for national quotas on the “taking” of certain whale species, especially those in danger of extermination. However, for certain countries whaling was an important economic activity.
The specific instance was the granting of an extension of a license to the one remaining U.S. whaling company. We received requests for the extension from the Congressional representatives from the state in which the processing plant was located. (I think that it was in Oregon or Washington.) They pointed out that some twelve to fourteen people would lose their jobs if the plant were closed.
Given our international stance, and recognizing that this would one of the first Commerce/NOAA decisions, with adverse repercussions if it appeared that we favored business over the whales, we recommended that the Secretary permit the whaling company to continue operations only to the end of the year, thus giving the labor force some time to look for other employment.
Quoting from Maurice Stans (One of the Presidents’ Men):
“When Commerce acquired from Interior the responsibilities for marine resources, I had to deal with a longtime program for the licensing of American ships to harvest whales. This industry, which in the early days of the nation provided fuel, food, and such miscellany as corset stays and baleen, had dwindled through the years to where only one American company remained in the business and they were down to one ship. Many species of whales were endangered and the total population was a tiny fraction of the number that once roamed the seas. The Russians and the Japanese were still harvesting heavily under quotas allowed by the International Whaling Commission. Considering all the circumstances, as an act of conservation and as a moral lead to other countries still killing whales, I announced that no licenses would be issued to an American whaler by the United States government after 1970. That closed this long page of history. (Since then quotas on some other countries to take whales have been significantly reduced.)”
The International Whaling Commission had no teeth. Abiding by the terms of any international agreement setting individual annual national quotas was purely voluntary. There is no doubt that the quotas were exceeded. However, the indications are that as a result of international pressure and scientific proof as to the effect of large-scale whaling, there has been a growth in the whale populations that were being decimated. Those of us who go to Point Loma, in San Diego, in January and February each year to watch for the passing southward of the gray whales, certainly hope so.
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