International Whaling Commission proposes compromise on ban

By Juliet Eilperin
Saturday, April 24, 2010; A02

A new International Whaling Commission proposal that would authorize commercial whale hunting for the first time in 24 years in exchange for reducing the number killed each year sets in motion a public diplomacy battle.

A global whaling moratorium took effect in 1986, but three nations -- Japan, Norway and Iceland -- have continued hunting whales, killing about 1,700 annually in recent years. The United States and other anti-whaling countries have sought to strike a deal that would create an international monitoring system to ensure a steadily declining hunt.

The 10-year plan would cut -- but condone -- hunting in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, which won international protection in 1994. Japan's annual quota of 935 Antarctic minke whales -- which it takes in the name of scientific research, an exception to the moratorium -- would be cut to 400 during the next five years and then drop to 200 in the following five years. Its current hunt of 320 sei and minke whales off its coast would be reduced to 210.

Under the proposal, whalers initially would be allowed to take 400 Antarctic minke whales in the Southern Hemisphere, an area that includes the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, and the number would fall to 200 over the next decade. Also in the Southern Hemisphere, the number of fin whales that could be taken would start at 10 and drop to five in that period.

"Some whaling will be the price to pay for the reduction in the number of whales killed," IWC Chairman Cristi?n Maquieira said in an interview this week. "I don't think anybody will be happy with the numbers, but what I'm trying to achieve is a situation where everybody is willing to sit down at the table because they see something there that otherwise they would be unable to obtain."

Maquieira, of Chile, cautioned that details of the proposal could change before the IWC's late June meeting in Morocco, where the support of three-quarters of the delegates will be needed for passage. As the proposal stands, it would mean that roughly 5,000 fewer whales would be killed during the next decade compared with current levels.

Japan's agriculture minister, Hirotaka Akamatsu, praised the proposal but said his nation would push for higher quotas, given the "big gap" between its current activities and the proposed limits.

"We praise it for adding small-type coastal whaling, which we have patiently and persistently asked for," he said. "

Environmental groups criticized the plan, deeming it a dangerous concession to pro-whaling nations. Some of the species targeted by the three nations such as common and Antarctic minke whales are numerous. Others, however, such as fin, humpback and sei, are imperiled.

Susan Lieberman, director of international policy at the Pew Environment Group, said that the proposal had good elements such as increased monitoring and a stronger IWC conservation panel, but that the Southern Ocean quotas are not based on scientific calculations and go against the idea of establishing protected areas.

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