Whalers secure crucial vote win in bid to overturn ban
Tiny IWC majority declare 1986 moratorium invalid
Result a return to dark days, say conservationists

Robert Booth
Monday June 19, 2006


Japan's campaign to restart commercial whale hunting received a major boost last night when the International Whaling Commission declared invalid a 20-year ban on the slaughter of the planet's largest creatures for anything other than scientific purposes.
Members of the international commission which regulates whaling voted at a meeting in St Kitts by 33 to 32 to support a declaration that paves the way to the lifting of a moratorium imposed in 1986 to save whale species from extinction.

Japan was joined by delegates from Caribbean and African countries who have been pushing to lift the ban as a way to protect fish stocks from whales and give their small countries food security.

The group - which included Denmark - said the resolution was needed to force the IWC to take up its original mandate of managing whale hunts, not banning them altogether.

Pro-whaling countries still need 75% of votes in the IWC to end the moratorium but last night's vote was seen as a big step towards that goal and Japan is encouraging new pro-whaling states to join the commission in the hope of wresting control from protectionists.

"This tragic moment signifies a great step backwards in time to when the International Whaling Commission was nothing more than a whalers' club," said Niki Entrup, of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society. "This is a return to the 1970s dark days when whales roamed the seas unprotected. The welfare and future of whales remains seriously in question."

"This is a huge disaster," said Kitty Block of Humane Society International. She said it would bolster Japan's pro-whaling "propaganda".

Earlier in the meeting Japan had lost four votes which illustrated its pro-whaling credentials. It had called for secret ballots at the IWC, an exemption to allow Japanese coastal communities to whale, the elimination of a Southern Ocean whale sanctuary and a block on the commission discussing the fate of dolphins, porpoises, small whales and great whales.

The IWC meeting was then thrown into chaos by the vote in favour of the pro-whaling resolution. The declaration's claims that whales are responsible for depleting fish stocks and that non-governmental and environmental organisations which support the whaling ban are a "threat" were fiercely contested, but pro-whaling lobbyists celebrated the first serious setback for those against whaling in years.

"It's only a matter of time before the commercial ban is overturned," said Glenn Inwood, a spokesman for the Japanese delegation.

"This is historic," said Rune Frovik, secretary of the Norwegian pro-whaling lobby the High North Alliance. "For the first time in more than two decades the Whaling Commission expresses support for commercial whaling. This shows the power balance is shifting, but it really shows that both sides need to sit down, compromise and stop yelling from the trenches."

Sue Lieberman, director of the global species programme at WWF International, said a majority of IWC members had adopted language that anti-whaling activists considered scientifically invalid, such as the claim that whales ate large quantities of sought-after fish.

"What is more important than that is this does show that Japan's recruitment drive has finally succeeded. It should be a wake-up call."

Japan has increased aid to countries such as Belize, Mali, Togo, Gambia which are recent members of the IWC. Japan gave $300m to a string of Caribbean islands, ostensibly to develop their fishing industries, but Japan traditionally stresses that whales are responsible for low fish catches.

Japan has abided by the moratorium on commercial whaling since it came into force two decades ago, but, along with Iceland, uses a legal loophole to conduct scientific whaling. Norway is the only country that ignores the ban and more than 25,000 whales have been hunted and killed since the moratorium.

The Japan Whaling Association says Japan would only whale for food rather than oils or bone. It also says it should be allowed to whale because it is part of its culture. "Asking Japan to abandon this part of its culture would compare to Australians being asked to stop eating meat pies, Americans being asked to stop eating hamburgers and the English being asked to go without fish and chips," a statement on its website reads.