Whaling nations see setback at annual talks

/ Source: The Associated Press

The International Whaling Commission passed a resolution Thursday affirming that a 21-year moratorium on commercial whaling remains in place and is still relevant.

The commission later failed to reach a consensus on Japan's request for limited minke whale hunts by certain coastal communities with whaling histories. Japan dropped its plans and blasted anti-whaling nations, saying they took a two-faced approach in rejecting Japan's request but approved quotas for indigenous groups, including Alaska Natives, earlier this week.

The moratorium majority vote at the commission's final day of its annual meeting essentially snubbed a symbolic resolution passed by a one-vote majority last year that the ban was meant to be temporary and is no longer needed.

This year's resolution also noted there should be no change in restrictions prohibiting the international trade in meat and other parts of large whales regulated by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES.

Proponents of the United Kingdom measure said it was critical to send that message to the 171-member convention, which on Sunday begins a 12-day meeting in Amsterdam, Netherlands, to consider revising the list of thousands of plants and animals whose trade is regulated. CITES recognizes the 77-whaling commission as a global source of whale stocks.

With several new anti-whaling members attending the IWC meeting this year, pro-whaling factions fell short of last year's slim majority. But they lobbied hard against the resolution, saying it would fuel the already tense relations between pro- and anti-whaling nations demonstrated during the four-day gathering in Anchorage.

"CITES should make decisions based on their own criteria, not our politics," said Iceland delegate Stefan Asmundsson.

Without a consensus, the resolution passed 37-4, with Iceland and 25 other nations declining to participate.

Japan has for two decades sought "community whaling" status, which would give it quotas similar to those granted to indigenous groups. Japan already kills more than 1,000 whales a year and sells the meat under a scientific research provision allowed by the IWC. Its delegation said the number of minkes caught in that program could be reduced by the number of whales caught in a community quota program.

Its quota proposal for four communities started a contentious debate Wednesday, with anti-whaling nations citing insufficient scientific data on area minke stocks and criticizing the plan as commercial whaling. Japan returned Thursday with a resolution asking the IWC's scientific committee to develop a method for calculating sustainable catch limits by next year's meeting in Santiago, Chile. In the meantime, Japan said, it could make "interim arrangements" to help the coastal communities.

But it was quickly clear there was no consensus on that plan, which would have required a simple majority rather than the 75 percent vote necessary for the quota proposal.

"We can't agree on new forms of commercial whaling when the moratorium is in place," said Jim McLay with the New Zealand delegation.

Supporters included Iceland, which does not recognize the moratorium and conducts commercial whaling. Asmundsson and other pro-whaling delegates said they couldn't comprehend why Japan was treated differently from other groups with long traditions of whaling.

"We do really have no consistency," he said.

Japan said pushing the issue to a vote would further erode a greatly divided commission.

"This clearly revealed the disfunction of the IWC," said Akira Nakamae, an alternate commissioner for Japan. "There is a double standard at play."

Japan had been in the running to host the 2009 meeting along with Portugal. Just before the meeting concluded, Japan withdrew its offer to host the meeting in Yokohama.

Also on Thursday, the commission passed Greenland's revised proposal to increase its aboriginal quota of minke whales to 200 as well as hunt fin and bowhead whales. Greenland, a semiautonomous Danish territory, originally wanted to also add humpback whales, but met adamant opposition from critics who noted that the huge humpbacks and bowheads have low reproduction cycles.

The revision needed a 75 percent vote to pass. It was approved 41-11, with 16 members abstaining, despite lingering concerns about the inclusion of two bowheads a year. The Denmark delegation said it would take the bowheads only if justified by the IWC's scientific committee.

The international organization, World Society for the Protection of Animals, claimed anti-whaling nations _ particularly the United States, United Kingdom and Netherlands _ buckled and pushed the vote over the 75 percent mark.

"It got through by the skin of its teeth," said spokeswoman Leah Garces. "They really let whales down by allowing this to go through."