Draft whaling deal under fire from scientists, greens

21st June 2010, Comments 0 comments

The International Whaling Commission withdrew Monday behind closed doors within minutes of kicking off a tense meeting that could end a global ban on commercial whaling.

The 88-nation body is debating a proposal, put forward by the IWC's chairmen, that seeks to break a 24-year deadlock and reduce the number of animals killed.

Despite a 1986 moratorium, Japan, Norway and Iceland have flouted the ban, harvesting more than 1,500 of the marine mammals in the 2008-2009 season alone.

Japan has said it is keen to find a middle ground, but drew a line in the sand beyond which it said it would not budge.

"We cannot accept the strong opinions to eliminate all whaling activities. Compromise must be found from both sides," Japanese negotiator Hideki Moronuki told AFP.

The draft deal tables reduced annual catch numbers through 2020 for four species of whales as a baseline for negotiations, in the hope of coaxing the renegades back into the IWC fold.

Under the scheme, total allowable kills in each of the first five years would be just over 90 percent of the 2008-2009 figure, dropping further from 2015 to 2020.

"We think the proposal on the table is a good starting point," said Moronuki.

Led by Germany and Britain, European countries have welcomed Japan's apparent willingness to trim its kill quotas, but said that is not enough.

"Japan has signalled that they are ready to reduce their catch by about 50 percent over 10 years," said Gert Lindermanm, leader of the German delegation.

"But the numbers should lay out the path so that step by step commercial whaling should be finished."

The proposed deal would require the gradual reduction of kill quotas over a 10-year period, but says nothing about what happens after that.

It also would allow hunting in the Southern Ocean whale sanctuary, which many EU states along with Australia have said is a deal breaker.

The IWC's own scientific committee, meanwhile, said in a report issued Monday that most of the catch quotas in the proposal are not sustainable, committee members said.

Using a formula based on estimates of population levels, scientists calculated that the proposed catches were far too high for the North Pacific Bryde's whales, and double tolerable limits for North Atlantic fin whales and eastern North Atlantic minke whales.

Only for the central North Atlantic minke whales were the tabled suggestions well under conservation-safe limits, they found.

"Science has been sidelined during the negotiations," said Scott Baker, a marine biologist at Oregon State University and a committee member since 1994.

Like Japan's self-arrogated quotas for so-called "scientific research", the new figures "don't correspond to a scientific reality," said Jean Benoit Charrassin, a researcher at France's Museum of Natural History and a long-standing IWC scientist.

The proposal pays lip service to advice from the Scientific Committee, but the IWC has yet to adopt methods its experts laid out in 1994 -- in a so-called Revised Management Procedure, or RMP -- on how to calculate safe limits and verify they are respected, he said.

Justin Cooke, a committee member from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), described the plan as a "sham."

"It gives the impression that catch limits would be based on the RMP, but in fact they are arbitrary results of negotiation."

The scientific report also underscores the problem of so-called "by-catch", the ostensibly accidental killing of whales in fishing nets.

From 1994 to 2006, Japan and South Korea each caught more than 1,000 minke whales in their coastal waters this way, according to government statistics.

DNA analysis suggests that the real number of whales killed in the same waters by by-catch is likely twice as high.

Also on Monday, New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully said finding common ground between whaling nations and their opponents was "a pretty big task" -- and that failure by the IWC to find a solution could lead to "anarchy on the high seas".

After a brief opening ceremony, the talks -- which run until Friday -- went into

© 2010 AFP

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