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Last Updated: Saturday, 17 June 2006, 07:01 GMT 08:01 UK
Japan to table whaling 'roadmap'
By Richard Black
Environment correspondent, BBC News website, St Kitts

File picture of a humpback whale in Maui, Hawaii
Japan says hunting for meat would mean catching fewer whales
Japan is to table its proposal for a move towards a return to commercial whaling on day two of the International Whaling Commission annual meeting.

It says future whaling would be sustainable, with safeguards including independent observers and set quotas.

On the first day of the meeting in St Kitts, Japan lost two key votes, one which would have ended IWC work on conserving dolphins and porpoises.

But new arrivals could tip the balance of power.

At the end of the first day, delegates from Togo and Cameroon arrived and paid their subscriptions, entitling them to vote.

As Japan lost the two first-day motions narrowly - one by two votes, the other by three - it may expect to fare better if it puts its proposals to a vote on day two.

To 'manage' means to allow the utilisation of abundant species, under international control, under strict control, while protecting depleted and endangered species
Joji Morishita
Japan's deputy whaling commissioner

Japan has said it will consider leaving the IWC if it does not move back towards an eventual resumption of commercial whaling, a process which Japan terms "normalisation".

"This organisation was established in order to manage whaling and whale species," said Japan's deputy whaling commissioner, Joji Morishita.

"To 'manage' means to allow the utilisation of abundant species, under international control, under strict control, while protecting depleted and endangered species."

'No going back'

The proposal can be seen as a "roadmap" towards a return to regulated commercial whaling.

Japan maintains it is not a return to the rapacious practices of the early 20th Century, when tens of thousands of whales were hunted each year and stocks of some, notably the blue whale, plummeted towards extinction.

"Then whales were hunted for oil, but no-one hunts for oil now," said Mr Morishita.

Hunting for meat, Japan says, would mean catching far fewer whales.

Safeguards envisaged by Japan would include:

  • sustainable quotas
  • monitoring and inspection by enforcement officials
  • a DNA registry or catch certification system
  • penalties for violations

The normalisation document is unlikely to appease the concerns of environmental groups which see it leading to an expansion of hunting.

Stalls on the road

Discussions on an issue closely allied to normalisation, the Revised Management Scheme (RMS), have been going on for 14 years without conclusion.

Whale schematic (BBC)

The RMS discussions would have seen IWC members agree on a roadmap much the same as the one Japan is now proposing; and the suspension of talks in March is a principal reason for Japan now tabling its normalisation ideas.

But if anti-whaling nations could not find common ground with Japan in 14 years of talks, they are unlikely to find any now.

To get around that obstacle, Japan is proposing to host separate talks later this year with countries which see potential in the idea.

There is a view in some conservation-minded countries that a small amount of regulated commercial hunting would be preferable to the current situation, which sees Japan and Iceland whaling for what they call "scientific purposes" as permitted under IWC rules, and Norway ignoring the moratorium having lodged a legal objection at its inception.

This amounts to a total catch of about 2,000 whales per year, under what is supposed to be a global ban.


See a Japanese whaling fleet in action


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