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Environment News Service (ENS)

Whaling Commission Proposes Return to Commercial Whaling


Minke whale on thedeck of a Japanese whaler. (Photo courtesy Institute of Cetacean Research)

CAMBRIDGE, UK - A working group of the
International Whaling Commission today released a draft proposal that
would allow the return of commercial whaling. An IWC moratorium on
commercial whaling has been in place since 1986.

The compromise is aimed at unblocking the long-stalled
negotiation process between IWC member countries opposed to commercial
whaling and those that want to kill whales.

The draft Consensus Decision by the Small Working Group on the
Future of IWC would allow only the countries that currently take whales
under the "research" provisions of the treaty to hunt them under the
proposed management regime. Those countries are Japan, Norway, Iceland
and the Faroe Islands, which together kill some 1,500 whales a year.
Indigenous subsistence whaling also would be allowed to continue.

The draft proposal would bring whaling by all 88
member countries under the control of the IWC. Currently, the IWC has
no control over whaling under objection/reservation to the treaty or
whaling under special permit, the so-called "research whaling."

The proposal establishes caps of takes that are "within sustainable
levels" for a 10 year period, although most of those quotas are not
specified in the draft document but are marked "TBD," to be decided.
The draft comments that catches would be reduced "significantly" from
current levels.

Currently, Japan has a six-vessel whaling fleet in Antarctic
waters as part of its scientific whaling program. It targets up to 900
minke whales, which are not an endangered species, plus 50 endangered
fin whales.

In 2009, Japan took 679 minke whales and one fin whale for a
five-month effort in the Southern Ocean, spending much time and effort
in clashes with the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. Japan's goal had
been to kill up to 935 minke whales and 50 fin whales.

The IWC proposal states that a fundamental component of the Consensus
Decision is that the commission will "focus on the recovery of depleted
whale stocks and take actions on key issues, including bycatch, climate
change and other environmental threats."

But environmental groups are outraged by the proposal.

From its office in Amsterdam today, Greenpeace International
called for the proposal by to be rejected out of hand, describing it as
a dangerous throwback to the 20th century when whales where hunted to
near extinction.

"The proposal rewards Japan for decades of reprehensible
behavior at the International Whaling Commission and in the Southern
Ocean Whale Sanctuary," said John Frizell, Head of the Greenpeace
Whales Campaign.

"We are at a critical junction for both whaling and ocean
conservation," said Frizell. "A return to commercial whaling would not
only be a disaster for whales but will send shock waves through
international ocean conservation efforts, making it vastly more
difficult to protect other rapidly-declining species such as tuna and

From its headquarters in Gland, Switzerland today, WWF-International
said the new draft compromise on whaling "set a dangerous precedent
that the international community must reject."

WWF said that while the compromise "contains many positive
elements for whale conservation that would help bring the IWC into the
21st Century," the compromise could legitimize whaling by Japan in the
Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.

"If there is one single place in the world where whales should be fully
protected, it is the Southern Ocean," said Wendy Elliott, species
manager at WWF-International. "What we need is to eliminate all whaling
in the Southern Ocean, including Japanese commercial whaling thinly
disguised as 'scientific research.'"

"But what we have now is a deal which could make it even easier for
Japan to continue taking whales in this ecologically unique place,"
Elliott said.

The IWC supposedly provides special protection to a critical
whale feeding area, the Southern Ocean, surrounding the continent of
Antarctica, which the IWC established as a 50 million square kilometer
whale sanctuary in 1994. "This extra layer of protection signifies the
importance of this area as the primary feeding habitat of many of the
Southern Hemisphere's whale populations," Elliott said.

The proposal sets a process in motion that could endorse quotas which
have not yet had a full and proper scientific review. "It is difficult
to see how determining quotas through politics rather than science can
be considered progress," said Elliott.

The draft Consensus Decision will be discussed by a group of
IWC countries at a meeting in March, with the intention that it will be
adopted by the IWC at its next full meeting in Agadir, Morocco in June.

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