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Thursday, 23 May, 2002, 09:54 GMT 10:54 UK
Japan blocks indigenous whaling
Greenpeace members, wearing masks of Japan's Commissioner of IWC Minoru Morimoto, stage a demonstration.
Japan's tactics have left environmentalists furious
Arctic natives will be banned from hunting whales for food and clothing after the International Whaling Commission (IWC) voted against renewing their rights for the first time.

Japan led a rebellion against what it called the hypocrisy of anti-whaling countries after it lost a vote earlier this week to extend whaling in its own coastal areas.

This has very little to do with science - it has everything to do will politics

US delegate Rolland Schmitten
Representatives of the indigenous peoples of Alaska and Russia said the ban would leave them hungry and national delegates from the US and UK accused Japan of playing politics.

The conference, in the Japanese town of Shimonoseki, which is 825 km (515 miles) south-west of Tokyo, has been marked by acrimonious exchanges and procedural bickering which have delayed the agenda.

Isolated arctic communities had been permitted to catch a small number of whales for their subsistence needs ever since the commission - established to conserve whale stocks - first considered the issue about 30 years ago.

Indigenous whaling quotas had been expected to be passed as a formality but the debate descended into a bitter exchange.

Food v profit

Japan had wanted hunters from four of its coastal towns to be allowed to catch 50 minke whales.

Grey whale   Noaa
Grey whale: Subsistence whalers' target
That was rejected, in part because officials said the towns got some commercial benefit from the whaling whereas the Inuit and Makah in Alaska and indigenous people in Chukotka used the whales purely for subsistence.

Later, Japan lost a vote to end the 1986 ban on commercial whaling in general.

Though Japanese officials had accepted that outcome was likely, they had wanted to express dissatisfaction with the moratorium.

They believe many whale species are plentiful enough for limited kills, though opponents say abuses would be likely as the practice is difficult to monitor.

Indigenous catches
Chukotka: 120 grey whales
Makah: 4 grey whales
Inuit: 56 bowhead whales
Gennady Inankeuyas, 42, a Chukotka tribesman, said his people depended on whale meat for nutrition and fat.

"It will leave us hungry. We hope our government won't leave our families without food," he said through an interpreter after the vote.

The rejection was likely to doom similar requests from Denmark and St Vincent for much smaller catches.

The US Commissioner, Rolland Schmitten, said: "This has very little to do with science. It has everything to do with politics."

'Double standards'

He was echoed by Rob Bowman of the UK delegation who said: "We must stress that this point has been reached purely and simply due to the actions of Japan.

"We've seen a new low for the IWC."

But Japanese official Masayuki Komatsu dismissed this.

"They are calling this a black day for the IWC," he said. "But the double standards and anti-whaling attitude used to hijack this commission brought black days for us."

The indigenous peoples of the far north Pacific have hunted whales for centuries.

Conservationists, as well as Japan, criticise the hunts, which target grey and bowhead whales, because these species are believed to be endangered.

"All international law and rule and science is on our side," Japanese spokesman Joji Morishita said.

The annual meeting, which is due to end on Friday, is already a day behind on its agenda.

The BBC's Clive Myrie in Japan
"The conservation lobby won"

Sea change?
Should the ban on whaling be lifted?
See also:

22 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
20 May 02 | Science/Nature
21 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
25 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
06 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
04 Oct 01 | Science/Nature
27 Jul 01 | Science/Nature
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