Norway's insistence on continuing to kill whales contradicts the spirit of the international moratorium on commercial whaling, the UK says.
By Alex Kirby
BBC News Online environment correspondent
Norway has set itself a catch quota of 711 minke whales for 2003, up from 634 killed last year.
Its whaling is legal, because it objected to the moratorium, in force since 1986.
But the British say the Norwegian hunt is really for export, and is unsustainable.
The accusation came from the UK Fisheries Minister, Elliot Morley, in a briefing to journalists before the start on 16 June of the annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in Berlin.
Mr Morley told BBC News Online: "We believe the Norwegian whaling is against the spirit of the moratorium.
"They say it's legal, and it's true they registered an objection when the moratorium was agreed by the commission, so under IWC rules they're allowed to continue hunting.
"But we think it goes against the spirit of the ban, and certainly their attempts to export the meat are illegal.
"They're desperate to find an export market, and that shows the whaling isn't for domestic consumption - and it's not sustainable."
Far eastern market
Norway has so far exported about 70 tonnes of whale meat and blubber to Iceland and the Faeroe Islands, and is hoping to start exports to Japan.
Japan also catches whales, though it says its hunt is for research: the meat is sold. Iceland is now planning to start research whaling, which is allowed by the IWC.
Taking aim: Norway says its quarry is abundant
Mr Morley said: "The IWC was almost dysfunctional at last year's meeting, and it's not looking much better this year."
For some years past the commission's annual meetings have been little more than ritual confrontations between countries which want to resume whaling, led by Japan and Norway, and their opponents.
These opponents say there is no evidence that the whales have recovered from the bloody centuries of industrial whaling.
Many of them also want the IWC to move from its original mandate of regulating whaling to an overtly conservationist role, protecting the whales themselves.
Mr Morley said the UK would be backing the Berlin Initiative, a proposal that seeks to meet this concern by shifting the IWC's emphasis towards environmental protection for all cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises).
The UK says Norwegian whaling is unsustainable
At present the commission deals only with the 12 great whale species, but Mr Morley said the UK regarded it as competent to protect small cetaceans as well.
The initiative has the backing of many IWC members and conservation groups. But Japan's IWC commissioner, Minoru Morimoto, was scathing about it.
He said: "The Berlin Initiative might look like a positive, feel-good development for the IWC, but ultimately it will be the final blow to the already polarised and dysfunctional commission, destroying its raison d'etre."
Mr Morley was similarly dismissive of Japan's research whaling, which he said seemed to prove "that the Japanese eat whales, not that whales eat fish".
He said the UK did not accept the scientific basis for Iceland's planned research hunt, and remained strongly opposed to all forms of whaling apart from some subsistence whaling by indigenous peoples.
Mr Morley said: "The top priority is to hold the line on the moratorium, which is now clearly under threat."
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