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Last Updated: Friday, 28 May, 2004, 13:14 GMT 14:14 UK
Norway seeks tripled whale catch
By Alex Kirby
BBC News Online environment correspondent

Dead minke on boat   High North Alliance
Norway says minkes are abundant enough
Norway's Parliament says the country's annual catch of minke whales should go up "considerably" as soon as possible.

The 2004 quota of 670 whales could be almost tripled to about 1,800 animals a year if the government agrees to act.

Norway's fisheries minister said the country also wanted to start scientific research on other whale species, using satellite transmitters to count them.

He said assessing the whales' numbers in this way could be the prelude to hunting some less abundant species.

Safety margin

The resolution passed by the Parliament said a tripling of minke catches to 1,800 a year, the average during the 1960s and 70s, would protect fish stocks.

Whale being hauled aboard   High North Alliance
The catch is hauled aboard
The suggestion that killing whales will help to save fish is rejected by many fisheries scientists and whale experts.

Norway says 1,800 minkes would represent less than the expected minimum growth rate of 2% in the North Atlantic population of the species, which it says international estimates put at 107,000 animals.

The International Whaling Commission agreed a moratorium on commercial whaling which has been in force since 1986, but Norway is not bound by it because it objected to the moratorium's introduction.

Two other IWC members, Japan and Iceland, also kill whales in the name of scientific research, which is allowed by the commission's rules. Conservation groups say altogether about 1,400 whales are killed every year.

Rapid expansion

Minkes, the smallest of the great whales, can be about 10m (33ft) long when fully grown. They are thought to be relatively abundant, though the IWC has reduced its estimates of their numbers in the North Atlantic in recent years.

The Norwegian fisheries minister, Svein Ludvigsen, told Parliament Oslo wanted to begin research on other species of whale, marking them with satellite transmitters to gauge their numbers to see if they could be hunted.

Harpooner and gun   High North Alliance
The harpooners could soon have many more targets
The High North Alliance, based in Norway, says it exists "to protect the rights of whalers, sealers and fishermen to harvest renewable resources in accordance with the principle of sustainable management".

Rune Frovik of the Alliance told BBC News Online: "The resolution does leave some room for interpretation, though it's pretty clear what Parliament wants, and the government will have to deliver.

"We think the minke quota could be up to 1,800 by 2006. It's not clear whether the scientific whaling being suggested should be lethal or non-lethal, but I don't think the idea of killing whales is ruled out.

"The proposal appears to apply in principle to virtually any species except bowheads and blue whales, though in practice I think the government is most interested in assessing stocks of fins, humpbacks, pilot whales and several dolphins."

The IWC will hold its annual meeting in the Italian town of Sorrento in July.

Images copyright and courtesy of the High North Alliance.

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