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Whaling compromise under attack

by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) April 8, 2010
A fragile plan to resolve the global feud on whaling is coming under attack from both sides, with Australia seeking more concessions from whalers and Japan vowing never to end its hunt completely.

Key nations in the whaling debate submitted comments to the International Whaling Commission (IWC) as it fleshes out a compromise to be submitted before the body's annual meeting in June in Morocco.

The plan would let Japan, Norway and Iceland hunt the ocean giants openly despite a 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling. In return, whaling nations would agree to reduce their catch "significantly" over 10 years.

The nation that gave the most positive assessment was New Zealand, whose former prime minister Geoffrey Palmer has been negotiating a deal and has warned that the IWC could otherwise fall apart.

But Japan and Australia, whose relations have been stained over Tokyo's annual whaling missions in the Antarctic Ocean, remained deeply at odds.

Japan, which says that whaling is part of its culture, said it had been seeking a compromise despite "extremely difficult domestic coordination" and deplored that other nations sought an eventual end to all whaling.

"We do not see any spirit of compromise towards consensus-building in such argument," said Japanese negotiator Jun Yamashita.

"Japan is deeply concerned that there is a serious risk that, if members were to stick to such a demand, which is starkly inconsistent with the intention of the process, the process might be put in jeopardy and collapse eventually."

But Australia said that the draft plan offered nothing from whaling nations.

"The draft 10-year compromise falls well short of a result that Australia could accept," wrote Australia's commissioner to the IWC, Donna Petrachenko.

"To date there has been no tangible engagement from whaling nations to define 'significant reductions'" in their catch, she said.

South Korea was unusually vocal in its comments, saying it "strongly" opposed language that would limit whaling to those nations that currently catch the ocean giants.

"The draft is unfair and unduly restricts (countries') rights to sustainable use of whale resources without reasonable grounds," it said.

South Korea officially does not allow whaling. But whale meat is sold legally in South Korea if the mammals are accidentally caught in fishing nets, in what environmentalists say is an easily exploitable loophole.

"South Korea's position is a clear indication that this is a slippery slope," said Phil Kline, senior oceans campaigner for Greenpeace USA.

"If you restart commercial whaling, you know that others are going to be waiting in line," he said.

Despite the sharp gaps in reactions to the plan, Kline said that some other nations supported it and were keeping a low profile by not giving submissions -- notably Norway and Iceland.

Norway and Iceland are the only two nations that openly defy the 1986 moratorium. Japan says it abides by the ban by using a loophole that allows "lethal research" on whales.

The United States, which nudged key nations toward compromise during talks in Florida last month, said it opposed commercial whaling but said it would withhold judgment on the proposal until its concerns are addressed.

Among its points, the United States sought assurances that any whale meat go only for domestic consumption, amid criticism that Iceland resumed whaling in pursuit of the Japanese market.

Chris Butler-Stroud, international chief executive of the Munich-based Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, feared that a compromise would give whalers a "new lease of life" in the form of international trade.

"As the last two years have shown, global whale product trade is their ultimate goal and only way that their dying industry can survive," he said.

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