Page last updated at 18:56 GMT, Tuesday, 24 June 2008 19:56 UK

Whaling body agrees path to peace

By Richard Black
Environment correspondent, BBC News website, Santiago, Chile

Whale tail (Getty Images)

The global body responsible for whales and whaling has opened the door to the eventual partial lifting of the commercial whaling ban.

The International Whaling Commission (IWC) adopted a reform path aimed at finding compromise between pro- and anti-hunting countries.

Delegates at the Commission's annual meeting in Chile agreed the current impasse should not continue.

Governments will try to agree a package of measures by next year's IWC meeting.

The commission has taken a big step forward by setting up this diplomatic process, but it will not be easy
Steve Chadwick,
New Zealand's Conservation Minister

To secure the agreement of whaling nations, it is likely that the essential ingredients of that package will have to include the partial resumption of commercial hunting, perhaps limited to coastal waters.

Some conservation groups approve of the endeavour because they believe it could lead to a reduction in the total number of whales killed each year, and greater regulation of hunting.

Political realities

Moves to reform the organisation have been led by IWC chairman, William Hogarth.

"It has to work," he told delegates.

"We are the premium body set up for the conservation of whales, and we have to step up to the plate."

Prime Ministers Kevin Rudd and Yasuo Fukuda. Image: AFP/Getty
Australia and Japan disagree on whaling but agree on much else

But while better conservation of whales is the prime aim of Dr Hogarth's country, the US, others including Norway, Iceland and Japan will be looking for recognition that sustainable whaling is legitimate.

Japan has played a prominent part in preliminary discussions over the past year, and is fully behind the reform initiative.

Officials say nothing is ruled out as part of a final package, even the possible end to its annual Antarctic hunt which is conducted under a clause permitting hunting for scientific purposes.

"We wish to see the end of special permit (scientific) whaling," said New Zealand's conservation minister Steve Chadwick.

"The commission has taken a big step forward by setting up this diplomatic process, but it will not be easy; the path ahead is formidable.

"Ninety-two percent of New Zealanders oppose commercial whaling - that is a political reality."

The task facing Ms Chadwick's government and others in the anti-whaling camp is to strike a deal that they can sell to their publics while also being acceptable to Japan - and to Norway, which hunts as many whales as Japan each year and which probably has more to lose from a change to the status quo.

Unified opposition

Just about the only note of discord so far in this usually fractious meeting has come over subsistence hunting in Greenland.

Whaling vessel landing two whales (Getty Images)
Nations such as Japan are permitted to hunt whales for scientific purposes

The Arctic state has asked to add humpback whales to its annual hunt, which already includes minkes, fins and bowheads.

Greenland is still a territory of Denmark, which speaks for it in the IWC.

But Denmark is also a member of the EU. And for the first time this year, EU states attending the IWC are supposed to agree a unified position on key issues before debates begin.

Some, notably the UK, were ferociously opposed to the humpback quota.

They considered that Greenland had not offered meaningful evidence that its people needed the extra meat - a condition for the awarding of subsistence licenses - and were concerned by a recent report from the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA), showing that about 25% of the meat from the existing hunt was sold through supermarkets.

At a meeting on Monday night the EU agreed to oppose the quotas. Danish delegates walked out in protest; and without EU backing, the application is almost certain to fail.

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