Stalemate on ending ban at whale meeting

Thursday, July 26, 2001
By Jeremy Lovell, Reuters


LONDON The International Whaling Commission (IWC) passed a motion on Wednesday that criticized Norway for hunting Minke whales and for resuming exports of whale products but made no progress on ending a ban on commercial hunting.

"The working group has not been able to resolve all the issues," Dutch delegation head Fer Von der Assen told the IWC's annual meeting.

As in the past, the key outstanding issues remain inspections and observers to monitor whale catch when the temporary total ban introduced in 1985 to protect the 12 species of great whale is finally lifted. There is also deep disagreement on the creation of a central DNA registry for all whales that are killed.

An important component in lifting the ban is agreement on the Revised Management Scheme to set and police catch quotas. But this has been effectively beached since 1997.

Norway and Japan, where whale meat is a delicacy, have consistently opposed the ban. Norway in 1993 resumed hunting of Minke whales, which it says are in plentiful supply.

"The commission calls upon the government of Norway to reconsider ... and to halt immediately all whaling activities under its jurisdiction," said a resolution passed by 21 votes to 15 with one abstention. It also called on the Norwegian government not to issue any export permits for whale products.

'WITHIN OUR RIGHTS'

Norwegian delegation head Odd Gunnar Skagested angrily accused his attackers of
hypocrisy and of overstepping their rights.

"We reject the notion that we should be criticized for doing things that are thoroughly within our rights," he said. "We are surprised at anyone bringing a resolution of this kind."

Japan hunts Minke whales under the guise of scientific research, selling the meat to shops and to restaurants.

The meeting rejected by 20 votes to 15 with two abstentions a Japanese bid described by the United States as a backdoor way of lifting the ban to allow four hard-hit local subsistence communities to catch 50 Minke whales a year.

Britain, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand are fervent in their defense of the ban, with at least one British minister on record as saying it should never be lifted.

A three-quarters majority of voting members is necessary to change the rules of the 55-year-old organization, whose only purpose is the protection of great whales.

Britain's Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food says none of the great whales
from the gargantuan 150-ton blue whale to the relatively diminutive 15-ton Minke is now in immediate danger of extinction, thanks to the ban.

But the blue and its 90-ton northern right cousin are classified as endangered, while the bowhead, southern right, sei, fin, and humpback whales are considered vulnerable. Most were hunted to the edge of extinction in the 19th and early 20th centuries or food, fat, and oil.

Britain, which ceased commercial whaling in 1963 and fully endorses the ban, last month banned Norwegian whale research ships from its 200-nautical-mile territorial waters in protest at Oslo's resumption of whale product exports to Japan. During Wednesday's meeting Britain came under attack from the main whaling nations for the decision.

"The United Kingdom has chosen to put its own political considerations above the aims of the International Whaling Commission," Norway's Skagested said.

No one spoke up in defense of the British decision.

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