The Other Australia/Japan Living Marine Resources Dispute

Inferences on the Merits of the Southern Bluefin Tuna Arbitration in Light of the Whaling Case

in Brill Research Perspectives in the Law of the Sea
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In 2000 an arbitral tribunal formed under Annex vii to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea denied its own jurisdiction to hear the case brought against Japan by Australia and New Zealand over Japan’s unilateral experimental fishing programme for southern bluefin tuna. Despite the criticism the tribunal’s reasoning attracted, it was widely supposed that the applicants would have failed on the merits because of the reluctance of international courts and tribunals to delve into scientific matters, as would have been necessary with the dispute’s underlying cause being the parties’ scientific disagreements regarding both the tuna stock itself and the nature and risks of the programme. In 2014, however, the International Court of Justice showed no such reticence in deciding in Australia’s favour the case against Japan’s scientific whaling, based partly on flaws it identified in the design of that experiment. Reviewing the evolution in the tuna experiment’s design, the propositions it was designed to (dis)prove and the use to which Japan proposed to put that proof, this paper suggests that similar factors were at play in both disputes and that a similar outcome of the tuna case, though not inevitable, would have been amply justified.



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In 1950, the iwc created a Scientific Committee whose tasks under paragraph 30 of the Schedule include reviewing and commenting on special permits before they are issued by States parties to their nationals for purposes of scientific research under art. viii(1) of the icrw: ibid. 248 [47]. Since the mid-1980s, the Scientific Committee has conducted its review of special permits on the basis of guidelines issued or endorsed by the iwc. When jarpa ii was proposed in 2005, the applicable guidelines had been collected in a document titled ‘Annex Y: Guidelines for the Review of Scientific Permit Proposals’. The current guidelines are found in a newer document, ‘Annex P: Process for the Review of Special Permit Proposals and Research Results from Existing and Completed Permits’. See ibid. 252 [58] and 257 [84].


This began as early as 1989, when Australia noted in the management meeting that catches by other parties had not been included in the virtual population analysis projections (explained infra Appendix n. 296) considered by the scientists, which added to the need for a cautious approach: Southern Bluefin Tuna Trilateral Management Discussions Eighth Meeting (Summary Record) (18–21 September 1989) (unpublished, copy held by author extracted from dpie files) 27. When the meeting reconvened a month later Australia said the Taiwanese and Korean catch figures provided by Japan were substantially lower than its own estimate; Australia would thus not accept without further discussion the statement by Japan that future parental biomass estimates still increased even with catches by Taiwan and Korea included in the estimates: Draft Summary Record Reconvened Trilateral Management Meeting for SBT (8–18 October 1989) (unpublished, copy held by author extracted from dpie files) 3–4 (hereinafter October 1989 Draft Summary Record).


Mansfield (2001) (n. 3) 365.


  • The area for which the Japanese 1998 experimental fishing intended to estimate the relative density of sbt in fished and unfished 5° squares and the relative amount of effort within different portions of this area.247
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