Thousands of whales will continue to be killed each year following the collapse of international negotiations to redraw whaling rules after two intense days of secret talks.
Nonetheless, anti-whaling groups hailed the collapse as a success, as it means the ban on whaling — introduced 24 years ago but ignored by some nations — remains in place.
Pro- and anti-whaling countries failed to reach a compromise agreement at the meeting of the 88 member countries of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in Agadir, Morocco.
Acting IWC chairman Anthony Liverpool said “fundamental positions remained very much apart” while chief US delegate Monica Medina said: “After nearly three years of discussions, it appears we are at an impasse.”
Calls to lift ban
Pro-whaling countries Japan, Norway and Iceland — with backing from the United States, New Zealand and some green groups — had proposed lifting a ban on commercial whaling in return for cutting the number of whales killed under quotas that would reduce over a 10-year period.
But Britain, Australia and Latin American countries opposed ending the moratorium.
The failure to reach a consensus means the issue has been put to one side for at least a year .
The result also calls into question the future of the IWC, with documents published at the meeting saying “the status quo is not an option for an effective multilateral organisation”.
But the current situation, in which Norway and Iceland hunt whales despite the IWC ban and Japan uses a “scientific whaling” loophole to hunt 1 000 mostly minke whales, will now continue.
Wendy Elliott at WWF, which along with Greenpeace and the Pew Environment Group issued a statement on Monday backing a lifting of the ban under certain conditions, was disappointed at the outcome.
Lack of political will
“Governments failed to find a way forward,” she said. “Once again, they have put politics before science.
“This brings into question the integrity of the commission and its ability to make meaningful decisions that benefit whale conservation.”
Japanese whaling commissioner Yasue Funayama said her country had offered major concessions to reach a compromise and blamed anti-whaling nations which refused to accept the killing of a single animal.
“We must rise above politics and engage in a broader perspective,” she said. The head of the New Zealand delegation, Geoffrey Palmer, blamed an “absence of political will”.
Richard Benyon, Britain’s minister for the marine environment, said: “It is hugely disappointing that the world could not come together to give greater protection to these magnificent creatures.
“We in the UK have been consistently clear that any new agreement must reduce the numbers of whales that are killed each year with the aim of a complete phase-out of all commercial whaling.
“We could not support an agreement that did not have conservation at its heart.”
But anti-whaling campaigners hailed the breakdown as a victory. “We have won the battle to keep the ban in place but must continue to fight to win the war on all whaling,” said Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society CEO Chris Butler-Stroud.
“We must not forget that Japan, Iceland and Norway continue to whale outside of the sanction of the IWC, and that is a situation that has to change. Their whaling activities must come to an end once and for all.”
Patrick Ramage, director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare’s global whale campaign, also spoke out.
He said: “Under a cloud of corruption allegations, the IWC is taking a safe course, opting for a cooling off period that protects the moratorium and other IWC conservation measures. Had it been done here, this deal would have lived in infamy.”
Claims of corruption
The IWC meeting, which is usually open, drew criticism for going into secret session on Monday.
The negotiations also took place in the shadow of corruption claims, with newspaper allegations suggesting Japan had bought countries’ pro-whaling votes by paying for flights and IWC membership fees, a charge that was denied.
Japan, Norway and Iceland have reportedly killed 35 000 whales since the IWC started a ban on commercial whaling in 1986.
Japan conducts its Antarctic kills in the southern ocean using a loophole in the ban which allows whales to be killed for research purposes.
Norway and Iceland operate commercial whaling in the northern hemisphere outside of IWC control.
Those in favour of lifting the moratorium argued it would mean fewer whales were killed under a quota system, but the totemic nature of the ban for many environmentalists made it a principle they were not prepared to abandon. — Guardian News and Media 2010