The International Whaling Commission (IWC) has published draft proposals for regulating whaling for the next decade.
Antarctic whale hunt would fall in stages to less than a quarter of its
current size. But hunting would continue on the endangered fin whale.
The draft is the latest stage in a two-year process aiming to find compromise between pro- and anti-whaling camps.
It will be debated at the IWC's annual meeting in June. Some conservation groups have already condemned it.
whaling was banned globally in 1982, but Iceland, Japan and Norway
continue to hunt under various exemptions, collectively targeting more
than 2,000 whales each year.
"If an agreement is reached, this represents a great step forward in
terms of the conservation of whales and the management of whaling,"
said IWC chairman Cristian Maquieira.
"For the first time since
the adoption of the commercial whaling moratorium, we will have strict,
enforceable limits on all whaling operations.
"As a result, several thousand less whales will be killed over the period of the agreement."
Key countries, including the US and Japan, have limited comments to saying they will consider the draft proposal carefully.
But some conservation and animal welfare groups have already indicated opposition.
fact that this proposal is even being discussed shows just how far out
of touch the IWC is with modern values," said Claire Bass, manager of
the Marine Mammal Programme at the World Society for the Protection of
"It is entirely missing the point that blasting conscious animals with exploding harpoons is grossly inhumane."
others argue that the aim of completely banning whaling is unrealistic,
and that a major down-scaling, combined with bringing it under
international oversight, is a worthwhile compromise.
inclusion of fin whales and the continuation of hunting in the Southern
Ocean - which has been declared a whale sanctuary - are points of
"There are some positive elements here, but there are
some unacceptable provisions too," said Sue Lieberman, director of
international policy with the Pew Environment Group.
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"This allows whaling by Japan to continue in the Southern Ocean - and the Southern Ocean Sanctuary should be set in stone."
currently targets about 930 minke whales and 50 fins in each Antarctic
season, though in recent years it has actually caught a lot fewer owing
to skirmishes with ships of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and
to a fire on the factory ship Nisshin Maru.
The draft envisages the annual Antarctic minke catch falling to 400 immediately, then to 200 in the 2015/16 season.
The fin whale quota would be set at 10 now, falling to five in 2013/4.
demand that Japan has made regularly for several years - that it be
allocated a commercial or quasi-commercial minke whale quota in the
North Pacific waters around its coasts - would be granted, with 120 of
the animals targeted each year.
Iceland - which last year
mounted a major escalation in its fin whale hunt, catching 125 - would
be allocated an annual quota of 80 fins and 80 minkes, which is
considerably less than it has been demanding.
quota would be set at 600 minkes, and no other country would be
permitted to start hunting - a clause that has aroused the ire of South
It is clear that the big players are still some way
apart on key issues, including whether international trade should be
permitted during the 10-year period.
Permitting it is a key
demand of Iceland, which sees a potentially big export market in Japan.
But conservation groups and anti-whaling nations are equally adamant
that it must be stopped.
International trade in whalemeat is
banned, but Iceland, Japan and Norway have registered exemptions to the
UN wildlife trade convention for some whale species.
If adopted at the June IWC meeting, the "peace package" would set terms for the next 10 years, with a review after five.
Initial quotas could be amended downwards if scientific assessments indicated the necessity.
would agree not to set quotas unilaterally, and to keep all hunting
within the control of the IWC, effectively suspending the current
measures of "scientific" whaling or hunting "under objection".
nations would have to agree to a monitoring regime involving observers
on boats and a DNA register designed to keep illegal whalemeat out of
Whaling by indigenous groups would not be affected.