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Last Updated: Monday, 3 March 2008, 15:04 GMT
Japan seeks new allies on whaling
By Richard Black
Environment correspondent, BBC News website

Protest banner outside meeting. Image: AFP/Getty
Protestors said Japan was buying the votes of countries attending
Japan is looking for new supporters of its pro-whaling stance ahead of a major meeting on the future of the International Whaling Commission (IWC).

A one-day seminar on Monday brought delegates from 12 developing countries, most of them not IWC members, to Tokyo to discuss "sustainable use" of whales.

An official told the BBC that Japan hoped these nations would join the IWC.

On Thursday, the IWC begins a three-day meeting in London aiming to plot a new course for the fractured organisation.

We want the idea of sustainable use to be understood by as many countries as possible
Ryotaro Suzuki
Japan Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Officially charged with the effective regulation of commercial whaling, many of its member countries would prefer its central remit to become conservation of the "great whales" and their close relatives such as dolphins and porpoises, with virtually all hunting banned.

But Japan, Norway, Iceland and their allies in the pro-sustainable use bloc argue that there is no reason in principle why whales cannot be hunted like other wild creatures, provided quotas are small enough to be sustainable.

Balance of power

Whale display in museum. Image: AP
Japan believes the western love of whales is culturally specific
In recent years, both camps have sought to bring new member countries into the IWC to bolster their numbers.

At the 2006 annual meeting, the pro-whalers achieved superiority for the first time in 20 years with the passing of a resolution asking for the eventual return of commercial hunting.

By last year's meeting, enough new anti-whaling countries had joined to give this bloc the upper hand once more.

Both blocs continue to lobby potential new allies - hence Japan's decision to host Monday's seminar looking at the sustainable use of cetaceans.

Some of the 12 countries attending, such as Palau and Cambodia, are already IWC members; but most, including Angola, Eritrea and Micronesia, are not.

Ryotaro Suzuki, head of the fisheries division within Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told BBC News that the government hoped these countries would decide to join the IWC.

Objection - A country formally objects to the IWC moratorium, declaring itself exempt. Example: Norway
Scientific - A nation issues unilateral 'scientific permits'; any IWC member can do this. Example: Japan
Aboriginal - IWC grants permits to indigenous groups for subsistence food. Example: Alaskan Inupiat
But, he added: "We want the idea of sustainable use to be understood by as many countries as possible.

"So if the invited countries do not feel it is appropriate for them to join [the IWC], that is fine as well."

As the seminar got underway in Tokyo, campaigners with the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society were attacking Japanese whalers in the Antarctic with butyric acid, a substance formed in rancid butter, an incident which Japan's Institute of Cetacean Research described as "terrorism".

Reform club

Environment groups have expressed their opposition to Japan's recruitment of developing countries.

"[This meeting] is a clear signal that Japan's only concern is to roll back decades of protection for whales and resume commercial whaling," said Rob Nicoll, whales campaigner for Greenpeace in Australia and the Pacific.

Jun Hoshikawa of Greenpeace and Joji Morishita of Japan's Fisheries Agency. Image: IISD/END

Australia's environment minister Peter Garrett is sending his officials to the London talks on a ticket of trying to put scientific whaling under international oversight - a move that would curtail Japan's current hunting programmes, though there is little chance of the move succeeding unless the anti-whaling bloc offers significant concessions.

Japan, meanwhile, is asking that the IWC should take decisions on the basis of "science" rather than "emotion".

The London meeting, to be held behind closed doors, will not plot the future of whaling but rather look for ways of reforming the IWC so it can at least function effectively.

Although pro- and anti-whaling camps are as divided as ever in public, behind the scenes there are some on both sides who believe that the current stalemate serves no purpose, and who would support some kind of compromise proposal.

Japan whalers in 'butter attack'
03 Mar 08 |  Asia-Pacific
Small signs of a whaling compromise
27 Feb 08 |  Science/Nature
Diary: Jonah and the whale-chasers
28 Jan 08 |  Asia-Pacific
Japanese premier defends whaling
24 Jan 08 |  Asia-Pacific
Whaling fights: Everyone's a winner
01 Jun 07 |  Science/Nature
Under the skin of whaling science
25 May 07 |  Science/Nature
Temples of the whale
23 May 07 |  Science/Nature


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