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29 May 2007 15:42
Japan offered a compromise on Monday to break an impasse over its controversial plan to lift a 20-year moratorium of commercial whale hunting, but it was flatly rejected by the other key powers.
The failure to end the deadlock threw the already polarised 75-nation International Whaling Commission (IWC) into disarray as it opened annual talks in the Alaskan capital of Anchorage on the fate of the majestic creatures.
Japan said it would consider shelving plans to hunt humpback whales in the next Antarctic season under a highly criticised research programme if its request for whale hunting by coastal communities in four Japanese towns was allowed.
“We might come up with a package that will satisfy all member countries, but we’d like to see acceptance of our coastal whaling proposal,” said Joji Morishita, Japanese alternative commissioner to the IWC.
Japan wants to kill 50 humpbacks from stocks that migrate along the Australian and New Zealand coasts into the tropical Pacific, drawing flak from the two countries as well as environmental groups concerned over the mammals’ fate.
Tokyo’s compromise plan was immediately dismissed by a so-called “like-minded” coalition of anti-whaling nations comprising Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Britain, Argentina, Germany and the United States.
Japan’s humpback hunt request is a “very, very provocative act”, Australian Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull said, warning that diplomatic ties between the two allies could be affected if Tokyo proceeded with the move.
“The scale of Japan’s scientific whaling programme, which gets bigger every year, is clearly far beyond anything that could reasonably be regarded as necessary for scientific research,” he said.
An Australian petition with 30 000 signatures protesting against the Japanese plan was presented to the IWC meeting.
The fate of the endangered mammals is not “a matter of horse trading and negotiations”, Britain’s Biodiversity Minister, Barry Gardiner, said, pointing out that the humpback hunting plan ran counter to principles of science upheld by the ICW.
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.
The commission will decide this week whether to allow Japan’s plan for traditional coastal communities to catch whales under the same rules allowing the aboriginal peoples to hunt the giant creatures.
Environmental groups deem the Japanese proposal as a form of commercial whaling, but Tokyo says it is based on indigenous “subsistence” activity with “strong” enforcement, monitoring and 100% transparency”.
Tokyo is already under fire for allegedly using research as a thinly disguised and subsidised exercise in commercial whaling.
Japanese official Morishita warned of serious repercussions if Tokyo’s request was rejected amid speculations that political pressure at home could force the Asian nation out of the IWC.
“Unless we see clear, tangible progress at this meeting, my government will have a difficult time to continue at IWC ... we will be asked to reconsider our approach,” he said.
“The IWC is at a crucial crossroads,” said Patrick Ramage, of the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
“The emerging global consensus is that the IWC should be driven by conservation, not killing.”
But some groups felt that failure by key powers to engage Japan in the IWC could boomerang.
“The message they are sending is that Japan should leave the IWC,” said Eugene Lapointe, president of the International Wildlife Management Consortium World Conservation Trust, a pro-sustainable-use group.
The four-day meeting here would also consider a US request to renew bowhead-whale hunting quotas for its native Alaskan communities as well as aboriginal subsistence hunts by Russia, Greenland and St Vincent and the Grenadines.
The US and the other four countries seeking to renew aboriginal quotas had wanted to forge a joint package in a bid to gain swift IWC approval.
“Greenland’s greed for whales is undermining the moratorium and whale conservation efforts and potentially sabotaging the other aboriginal request for quotas,” said Kitty Block, director of Humane Society International.—Sapa-AFP
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