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Tuesday, 2 April, 2002, 16:47 GMT 17:47 UK
Japan green group softens on whaling
Whale leaping from water   BBC
Pressure is growing for at least some whaling to start again
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By Alex Kirby
BBC News Online environment correspondent
A Japanese conservation group is reported to be backing a resumption of commercial whaling.

The group, WWF-Japan, is quoted as supporting a partial lifting of the hunting moratorium in force since 1985.

It said the hunting should be closely monitored, and should be restricted to abundant species.

Japanese supporters of whaling are campaigning for the moratorium to be lifted completely at an international conference next month.

Key conference

WWF-Japan is reported to have said: "If the population dynamics of whale stocks are accurately understood, if sustainable quotas are carefully calculated... and if an enforceable and effective revised management procedure (RMS) is completed, we can no longer deny the logic that regulated commercial whaling can be resumed."

The RMS is a scheme devised by the International Whaling Commission (IWC), designed to safeguard whale stocks.

Greenpeace protestors and whaling vessel   PA
Protestors say whaling should end
Shigeki Komori of WWF-Japan said any future whaling would have to be monitored by the IWC, which is due to hold its annual meeting in the Japanese city of Shimonoseki in May.

Supporters of whaling hope the meeting will agree to lift the moratorium, but all the signs are that it will survive for another year at least.

The statement from WWF-Japan was reported by two international news agencies, but the group has complained that its remarks were taken out of context and that it was misquoted.

A statement from WWF-UK said: "WWF does not support commercial whaling. This position... is shared by the entire WWF international network, including WWF-Japan."

Last July, Gordon Shepherd, director of the international policy unit at WWF's global HQ in Switzerland, said limited whaling might be the only way to prevent a free-for-all.

Research imperative

He told BBC News Online: "The message 'Just say no' hasn't worked with drugs, and it isn't working with whales.

"As a conservationist, I say: 'Don't whale'. But that's not working. If the IWC can't stop whaling, it has to control it."

Diving whale's flukes   BBC
Whale numbers are uncertain
Japan has been catching whales for some years, despite the moratorium, as part of a research programme.

This is allowed under the IWC's rules, which permit an unlimited catch of any whale species in the name of science.

Japan's critics say the sale of the whales' meat for human consumption shows the research is simply a stratagem, though the Japanese say they are obliged by the IWC to sell the meat to avoid waste.

Expanded catch

Last year, Japan caught about 440 minke whales in the Antarctic, where it says there are about 760,000 minkes, the smallest of the great whales. The IWC thinks the number could be appreciably smaller.

In the north Pacific this year Japan plans to catch 150 minkes, 10 sperm whales, 50 sei and 50 Bryde's whales.

It says the stocks are big enough to sustain catches of this size, though its critics are unconvinced.

The only other country to continue whaling is Norway, which is not bound by the moratorium because it objected to it when it was agreed by the IWC.

The BBC's Juliet Hindell
"The message is controversial"
See also:

28 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
Japan plans to expand whaling
05 Feb 02 | Sci/Tech
Humane whale research plan
08 Jan 02 | Sci/Tech
Japan's whale-seeking satellite
04 Oct 01 | Sci/Tech
Whaling 'safe for a century'
27 Jul 01 | Sci/Tech
Green group backs limited whale hunt
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