Page last updated at 05:41 GMT, Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Australia denies whaling 'deal'

Japanese ship harpoons a minke whale, Southern Oceans, 2000
Japan's whaling programme is highly controversial

Australia's environment and foreign affairs ministers have rejected reports that their government has agreed to a compromise with Japan on whaling.

Activists have strongly criticised a reported plan for Japan to be allowed increased quotas for coastal whale kills if it limits Antarctic whaling.

The International Whaling Commission (IWC) chairman William Hogarth was reported to have raised the proposal.

Japan defends whaling as part of its culture, saying it kills for research.

But critics say this is a cover for the sale and consumption of whale meat.

'Implacably opposed'

Australian Environment Minister Peter Garrett said Australia's position had not changed.

We would hope and expect Australia to take the lead in ending scientific whaling
Patrick Ramage, International Fund for Animal Welfare

"We're committed, absolutely, to bringing about an end to so-called scientific whaling and we remain implacably opposed to commercial whaling," he said.

"The government does not share this position that's being advanced," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation after The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald newspapers published reports about what environmentalists called "whalergate".

Foreign minister Stephen Smith said a "range of possible suggestions and proposals" had been canvassed at the IWC.

"But they're a long way from any formal proposal or formal suggestion, or anything that the Australian government has agreed to," he said.

"Our priority remains Japan ceasing whaling in the great southern oceans, and our overall objective is for whaling to end completely", Mr Smith said.

Intense stand-offs

The compromise proposal was drawn up in confidence by an IWC drafting group comprising Australia, Japan, the United States, New Zealand, Sweden and Brazil, at a meeting in Cambridge, UK, last month, The Age reported.

It reported the deal as suggesting that Japanese whalers could hunt a regulated number of minke whales in its coastal waters, and take many more whales in the North Pacific.

In exchange Japan would agree to either phase out scientific whaling in the Antarctic entirely or impose an annual Southern Ocean limit.

Whale meat on sale, Tokyo, Jan 09
Japan says it kills whales for research purposes, but critics say the goal is consumption

The IWC manages a 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling - its meetings have become intense standoffs between Japan and anti-whaling nations, with Japan threatening to leave the body on occasion.

Japan was persuaded last year to stall its plans to extend its current slaughter of minke whales to humpback whales.

Japan's Fisheries Agency has declined to comment on the latest reports.

"This year is a moment of truth for the IWC," Japan's chief negotiator, Joji Morishita, said last week. "This is almost a final try."

Japan's whaling fleet is currently engaged in its annual Antarctic whale hunt, aimed at catching about 900 whales.

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