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Last Updated: Friday, 24 June, 2005, 10:00 GMT 11:00 UK
Reform likely on whaling process
By Richard Black
BBC environment correspondent in Ulsan, South Korea

Humpback fluke (AP)
Humpbacks can be taken under aboriginal permits
The International Whaling Commission's annual meeting has ended with the usual impasse between pro- and anti- groups.

Delegates in Ulsan, South Korea, could not agree on proposals to re-introduce commercial hunting, or on resolutions to reduce "scientific" whaling.

The latter will see whales killed at a higher rate in the next 12 months than at any time in the last two decades.

Support is now growing for a root and branch revision of the commission and the treaty which it administers.

Just about the only thing that unites pro- and anti-whaling nations is their frustration at the lack of progress on key issues, not only here in Ulsan but at previous annual meetings.

Constant conflict

The biggest issue of all is the Revised Management Scheme (RMS).

It is intended to be a comprehensive and globally accepted document establishing quotas and systems for all whaling fleets, making hunting sustainable, humane and policed.

[The convention] was adequate in 1946, but that's already about 60 years ago
Giuseppe Raaphorst, Netherlands whaling commissioner
Envisaged in 1992, it should, when introduced, bring to an end the current moratorium.

All members of the Commission might in principle support the RMS - the problem has been which RMS?

Japan, whose own version was rejected on a vote at this meeting, has been lambasted by conservation groups for preparing texts which, in their view, are weak on mechanisms to enforce compliance, come up short on animal welfare issues, and do not link RMS introduction to the end of scientific whaling, one of the principal loopholes in the current treaty, the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling.

Joji Morishita (AP)
Joji Morishita kept his cool in the face of some robust assaults from anti-whalers
More conservation-minded nations have been equally determined in arguing that an RMS must cover these issues to a substantial degree.

Rune FrÝvik, secretary of the High North Alliance, an umbrella group for fishermen and whalers in the Nordic countries, had harsh words for the IWC proceedings.

"They don't agree what should be on the agenda; it's just conflict all the time," he told the BBC News website.

"They say they want to continue with a process but in fact they are blocking progress.

"But when anti-whaling countries block the RMS, they are effectively endorsing whaling because legal whaling continues; it really says something about the IWC's relevance."

'Out of date'

The root cause of this situation, according to the whaling commissioner for the Netherlands, Giuseppe Raaphorst, is the convention itself; adopted in 1946, it was, he said, simply too old.

"It was adequate in 1946, but that's already about 60 years ago," he said.

THE LEGALITIES OF WHALING
Objection - A country formally objects to the IWC moratorium, declaring itself exempt
Scientific - A nation issues unilateral 'scientific permits'; any IWC member can do this
Aboriginal - IWC grants permits to indigenous groups for subsistence food
"Now whaling has become very problematic for many countries - actually most countries want it to be stopped - it's important that you have more control mechanisms and sanctions."

New Zealand's conservation minister Chris Carter agreed.

"At that time (1946) New Zealand was a whaling nation as well, we had a whaling industry," he told BBC News.

"We've moved on from there now; science tells us, public opinion tells us, increasing extinctions tell us that special creatures on Earth are at risk."

CURRENT MAXIMUM CATCHES
Norway (objection) - 796 minke from the north Atlantic
Japan (scientific) - 935 minke and 10 fin whales from Antarctic; 220 minke, 100 sei, 50 Bryde's and 10 sperm from north-west Pacific
Iceland (scientific) - 39 minke from north Atlantic
Greenland (aboriginal) - 187 minke and 10 fin
Alaska & eastern Siberia (aboriginal) - 140 grey and 67 bowhead
St Vincent & Grenadines (aboriginal) - 4 humpback
Northern Hemisphere catches cover a calendar year; Southern Hemisphere figures span two calendar years
The Netherlands and New Zealand are part of a developing movement which wants to resolve the impasse by re-examining the convention and the commission charged with administering it.

They believe it might be possible at ministerial level to tie whaling to other issues, such as trade or Japan's bid for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.

Towards the end of this week-long meeting, the idea of a ministerial meeting was formalised in a resolution proposed by Ireland, Germany and South Africa.

It calls for further meetings of the IWC's RMS Working Group; and "...if appropriate, ministerial, diplomatic, or other high-level possibilities to resolve these issues among the Contracting Governments to the Convention."

Room for manoeuvre

The resolution was adopted by a substantial majority, and largely welcomed by conservation groups.

"We're certainly very pleased to be seeing an on-going process with the RMS," Philippa Brakes, science officer with the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, said.

Find out about the different endangered whale species.

"The resolution is nice and broad and incorporates the views of the entire commission; it moves us closer towards a higher-level diplomatic conference, which is a positive way to progress these issues."

I put the suggestion of a high-level conference to Joji Morishita, one of Japan's alternate (or deputy) commissioners, who retained his urbane poise throughout the week-long meeting in the face of some robust assaults from Australian and New Zealand delegates.

"This issue of whaling is so contentious that we don't like to extend that contention to other issues of international negotiations," he told me.

"But there might be some possibility by trading a different aspect of talks between countries.

Whaling meeting ends
Another year over - but how long can the IWC go on in its present form?
"So it has a risk, but at the same time, technically, there might be some possibilities."

Comments from delegates here suggest that a high-level meeting is likely, but probably not within the next 12 months.

The urgency of the issue, though, is illustrated by the number of whales that will be killed, legally, over the same period.

The figure is likely to approach 2,500 - more than in any year since the moratorium was imposed in 1986.

Next year's IWC meeting takes place in St Kitts and Nevis, one of the Caribbean states that usually puts itself in the pro-whaling camp.




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Many now think the IWC should be reformed



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