Ban on commercial whaling under threat

Officials from 75 nations on Monday begin talks critical to whale conservation amid pressure—notably from Japan—to lift a 20-year ban on commercial hunting of the gentle giants.

As the annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) prepares to open in Alaska’s capital, the United States is reportedly under increasing pressure to compromise with Japan, which together with Norway and Iceland wants to end the moratorium.

The US is waging an uphill battle to win a mandatory three-fourths majority to maintain bowhead whale-hunting quotas for its native Alaskan communities and may need Japan’s influence in the IWC.

Japan, meanwhile, is campaigning for its traditional coastal communities to catch an unspecified number of minke whales under the same IWC rules allowing the Inupia and Yup’ik peoples of Alaska to hunt the giant creatures.

“It is our hope the US does not feel the pressure or the need to compromise. It is our hope that the US would not cave in to any pressure on this,” said Kitty Block, director of Humane Society International. “Commercial whaling has no place in modern-day society and to use any political wedges to break that down, to put in a US position to somehow support commercial whaling is an abomination.”

But Scott Smullen, spokesperson for the US delegation, said: “We have made it very clear that there will be no deal made on the bowhead quota and any idea of an exchange is dead on arrival.”

Japan too says it has not been pushing for any deal for the bowhead quota and that it has given assurance that it will support the US proposal.

“All it is asking is to be given a fair deal regarding its own similar proposal for traditional Japanese whaling,” said Glenn Inwood, spokesperson for the Japanese delegation.

Plans ‘sustainable’

While green groups say the Japanese proposal for “emergency relief” quotas for four of its small whaling towns in effect boils down to commercial whaling, Tokyo has skilfully devised a plan almost identical to the US request.

Both plans are sustainable, according to officials who attended the two-week IWC scientific committee meetings here in the run-up to the plenary sessions this week.

The scientific committee has found that the bowhead stock is healthy, has more than 10 000 animals and is growing at a rate of 3,4% a year, Smullen said.
“The numbers taken from the stock is fully sustainable according to the scientific community,” he said.

Japan, Smullen said, would have to “go through the same process and scrutiny of other aboriginal needs and it must show that there is no commercial element to a hunt”.

IWC rules say products of whales caught under aboriginal subsistence whaling must be used for local consumption, but do not specify that such activity has to be non-commercial.

“That subsistence whaling does not cost is a myth. Just because Japan may wish to pay for its traditional whaling to be done in a different manner than the US doesn’t mean the proposals are both very similar,” Inwood said.

The US subsidises Alaskan whaling while Japan wants the whalers to pay for it through the sale of whale meat locally.

Opposition

Australia, New Zealand and several other anti-whaling countries have strongly attacked Japan’s research programme as a thinly disguised and subsidised exercise in commercial whaling. About 1 000 whales fall prey to Japanese harpoons every year in the name of “scientific research”.

“There is a potential for the aboriginal quotas to frustrate progress in any other issue if used as a bargaining chip or tool by Japan,” said Patrick Ramage, of the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

Aside from the US, Russia, Greenland and St Vincent and the Grenadines are seeking extension at the IWC of their aboriginal subsistence hunts for the next five years.

Japan last year won a non-binding resolution in favour of commercial whaling, but fell short of the numbers needed to overturn the moratorium.

Anti-whaling nations are said to have a slim majority this year.

Outside the Anchorage conference venue on Sunday, Greenpeace rallied scores of whale campaigners in a march to highlight the plight of the whales, which it says are often hit by ships, choked on plastic bags, poisoned by pollution and starved because of changes in food supply through climate change impacts.—Sapa-AFP

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