Panel proposes support for whaling in exchange for limits

By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 23, 2010

An ad hoc group of the International Whaling Commission suggested Monday that the commission condone commercial whaling for the first time in nearly 30 years in exchange for reducing the number of whales killed each year.

The draft plan, the product of nearly a year and a half of closed-door talks, aims to break a long-standing deadlock between countries that favor whaling and those that oppose it. Only three nations -- Japan, Norway and Iceland -- hunt whales, although they have the support of dozens of other members of the commission.

The proposal does not say exactly how many whales would be killed each year as part of the whaling compromise, which would last for 10 years. Cristian Maquieira of Chile, chairman of the commission's support group, said in his report to the commission that any final deal would "reduce catches significantly from current levels" and "establish caps of takes that are within sustainable levels for a ten year period."

Cutting the number of whales killed each year is seen as an essential part of any global deal, because several countries, including the United States, say that no whales should be hunted in light of a 1986 international moratorium on whaling. The three whaling nations say that the practice is an important part of their culture.

The U.S. commissioner to the whaling commission, Monica Medina, said in an interview that the process remains "incomplete" and that the Obama administration has not decided whether to endorse the document. But she said the administration is eager to find some sort of resolution to the impasse, which has undermined conservation efforts.

Japan kills hundreds of whales each year on the grounds that it is "scientific whaling," a permissible practice under commission rules. Norway and Iceland hunt whales commercially, saying that they do not accept the commission's moratorium. In the 1990s, 300 whales were hunted annually for commercial or scientific purposes; a decade later, that number was 1,000. In the past five years, almost 2,000 whales have been killed each year.

"It's troubling that whales continue to be killed," Medina said. "All of our loudly articulated and strongly felt views have not resulted in an end to commercial and lethal scientific whaling. . . . We view this effort at finding a negotiated solution as an interim step toward full reform of the IWC and its promotion of whale conservation."

Environmentalists condemned the draft plan, saying that it would open the door to official whaling.

"This is a proposal for the long-term conservation of whaling, not whales," said Patrick Ramage, director of the global whale program of the International Fund for Animal Welfare. "In return for insignificant, short-term concessions from Japan, Norway and Iceland, the IWC would legalize commercial whaling in the 21st century."

The governments of Japan, Norway and Iceland could not be reached for comment.

Any final plan that the working group produces would be subject to a vote in June when the commission meets again. Officials from the United States, New Zealand, Australia, Chile, Norway, Antigua and Barbuda, Sweden, Germany, Japan, St. Kitts and Nevis, Iceland, Brazil, Cameroon and Mexico worked on the draft.

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