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Friday, 24 May, 2002, 11:06 GMT 12:06 UK
Whaling summit ends in deadlock
Harpooned whale
Indigenous whaling quotas had been expected to be a formality
The International Whaling Commission's (IWC) summit in Japan has ended with the ban on commercial hunting in place for another year, but nations divided over whaling for indigenous peoples.

A move to allow aboriginal whaling was defeated after pro-whaling nations voted down a compromise giving indigenous peoples in the US and Russia rights to hunt a limited number of whales for their own consumption.


In the history of the IWC, it was the most unjust, unkind and unfair vote that was ever taken

US delegate Rolland Schmitten
Japan led the rebellion against what it considers a hypocritical measure after it lost a vote earlier this week to extend whaling in its own coastal areas.

Correspondents say the conference - in the Japanese town of Shimonoseki - was the most divisive in years, marred by unprecedented bitterness between the pro- and anti-whaling nations.

The IWC's Swedish chairman, Bo Fernholm, called the meeting to a close after thanking the Japanese hosts for their gracious hospitality.

But it was Japan which spearheaded the bloc against renewing the hunting rights for indigenous people.

Trouble ahead

"In the history of the IWC, it was the most unjust, unkind and unfair vote that was ever taken," said US delegate Rolland Schmitten after the motion was defeated for a second time.

"That vote literally denied people the right to feed their families."

Grey whale   Noaa
Grey whale: Subsistence whalers' target
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.

Commercial benefits

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

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 BBC's Charles Scanlon in Shimonoseki said Russia and the US might be forced to let their Arctic communities hunt outside the IWC, seriously undermining the organisation.

Revenge vote?

Mr Schmitten said: "This has very little to do with science. It has everything to do will politics."

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.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Clive Myrie
"For the Japanese, hunting whales is a god-given right"
The BBC's Charles Scanlon
"There were allegations of double standards and dirty-dealing"

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

24 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
23 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
20 May 02 | Science/Nature
21 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
25 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
04 Oct 01 | Science/Nature
27 Jul 01 | Science/Nature
Links to more Asia-Pacific stories are at the foot of the page.


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