Anchorage (AFP) June 01, 2007
The International Whaling Commission (IWC), the world's only regulator of whale hunting, risks collapse as Japan threatens to quit the 77-nation group, raising fears of a free-for-all slaying of the majestic creatures. Following stormy annual IWC talks this week, Japan said it was seriously considering setting up a breakaway group after failing in its two-decade crusade to lift a moratorium on commercial whaling for its traditional small-type coastal communities.
It accused the IWC of double standards by, on the one hand, allowing natives from countries such as the United States and Russia to continue traditional whale hunting, while on the other hand, refusing to acknowledge the rights of Japan's whaling community, which has depended on hunting since the 17th century.
"This hypocrisy leads us to seriously question the nature by which Japan will continue participating in the forum," said a senior Japanese delegate Joji Morishita.
The polarized IWC is split between pro-whaling nations led by Japan, Norway and Iceland, and anti-whaling members led by the United States, Britain, Australia, Brazil and New Zealand. Neither group enjoys the three-fourths majority needed to make policy changes, leaving the forum mostly paralyzed.
Worse still, the annual meeting in Anchorage, Alaska for the first time saw pro-whaling nations boycotting the voting process, including one resolution slamming Japan for "lethal" whale hunting.
Although Japan has warned it would quit the group several times in the past, this is the first time it has officially said it might launch a new body to rival the IWC.
"In particular, we are greatly interested in the idea of holding a preparatory meeting for setting up a conservation and management organization for whales," said another senior Japanese delegate, Akira Nakamae.
"It can be a replacement for the IWC," he said.
Japan could take along up to 30 members from the IWC -- nearly all of them from the pro-whaling side -- to set up any new group and if this happens, the commission would lose its influence in its primary role of regulating whale hunting.
Japan and the United States are the key pillars of the commission although they are de facto leaders of the pro and anti-whaling camps.
"The IWC can only survive if Japan is a member. If Japan leaves, the IWC is dead," said Eugene Lapointe, the former secretary-general of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
It was clear from the IWC talks "there is general agreement" among the chief delegates that "the institution is itself at risk of extinction," said Monica Medina of the US Pew Environment Group.
Resolving the ongoing controversy over commercial whaling was critical, she said.
As the commission tears iteself apart, experts are concerned about the loophole-ridden moratorium and the fate of the great whales.
More than 30,000 whales have been killed for commercial purposes since the 1986 moratorium, many of these because so-called scientific whaling is allowed under an IWC loophole, said the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
Japan kills about 1,000 whales a year under its scientific program then sells the meat.
This summer, it wants to kill 50 humpback whales from stocks that migrate along the Australian and New Zealand coasts into the tropical Pacific despite pleas to spare the favourite of whale watchers.
Japan has also said it would consider defying the whaling ban and "unilaterally" allow small coastal communities to launch hunts for the large creatures along its exclusive economic zone.
Other nations are already defying the ban, conservationists say.
Norway continues to kill minke whales in the North Atlantic through a legal "objection" lodged against the moratorium more than two decades ago. The objection serves to exempt it from the ban.
Iceland left the IWC in 1992 and then re-joined in 2002 with a legally disputed reservation against the moratorium. Iceland recommenced commercial whaling in 2006.
"Whale conservation currently faces the biggest onslaught since the ban on commercial whaling was put in place," said Sue Fisher of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society.
"Not only do pro-whaling countries want to lift the ban on whaling, but they also aim to lift restrictions on international trade in whale products -- which, if allowed, would once again fuel an uncontrollable slaughter," she said.
earlier related report
Japan failed this week in another impassioned bid to resume commercial whaling at the annual meeting of the 75-nation International Whaling Commission (IWC), in which Tokyo is pitted against its usual Western allies.
Anti-whaling forces staged an unprecedented boycott of a Japanese whaling proposal and Australia has accused Japan of "needless provocation" for its plan to add humpbacks to the list of whales it hunts.
But the diplomatic showdown -- and Japan's sometimes violent confrontations at sea with anti-whaling protesters in the Antarctic Ocean -- get little attention in Japan.
"Is a whaling commission holding a meeting right now? I didn't know that," said Mayumi Hotta, a social worker, who has never eaten whale in her 36-year life.
"What I know about whale meat is that my father ate some for dinner when I was a child," Hotta said. "But I thought whaling was banned and we couldn't buy it anymore."
Japan hunts more than 1,000 whales a year using a loophole in an IWC ban that allows the killing of the giant mammals for scientific research, with the meat then sold on the market. Only Norway and Iceland defy the ban outright.
In 2001, the last time the government conducted such a survey on public attitudes, only 24 percent of Japanese knew that their country was whaling for scientific research.
"Times have changed," said Mitsuo Matsuzawa, who was selling seafood including whale bacon at his shop in Tokyo's bustling Tsukiji fish market.
"Whales used to be an important source of nutrition for generations after the war, when we had nothing to eat," said Matsuzawa, who is in his 50s.
"Nowadays people buy and eat whale meat not as a main dish but as a delicacy or out of nostalgia for past dinners," he said.
"If you want to eat meat, you can buy other meat like beef, which is much cheaper. Although I understand some people in the industry are supporting whaling, I personally don't see any strong reason to stick to it. I think that's the general trend."
The conference has received scant coverage in Japanese media. Only one newspaper ran any article about it before it started -- and that was a one-paragraph news brief, in the Mainichi Shimbun.
"The Japanese media tend to mince their words on the subject," said Takaaki Hattori, professor of mass media at Rikkyo University in Tokyo.
"Editors from older generations still recognise whale as food, while they are also fully aware that eating whale meat is seen as barbaric in the West," Hattori said.
"It's like some Asian countries which have a habit of eating dogs but don't speak loudly about it," Hattori said. "They tend to keep it under the rug. A similar attitude can be seen in reports on whaling by Japanese media."
But the Japanese government has invested heavily politically in defending whaling, rallying countries, mostly in the developing world, against what it calls Western cultural imperialism.
The government is encouraging restaurants and schools to serve whale as stockpiles go uneaten. In 2005, Japan doubled its annual catch, infuriating Australia and New Zealand which consider the Antarctic a whale sanctuary.
The government says Western news coverage about whaling has unfairly portrayed Japan as the villain.
"They unnecessarily display flashy pictures full of blood of slaughter work," said Hideki Moronuki, head of the Fisheries Agency's whaling division.
"What if we show a scene of a cattle being slaughtered to people who eat beef everyday?" Moronuki said.
Keiko Shirokawa of Greenpeace Japan rebuffed the argument, saying "facts are facts."
The environmental group sent a ship to Japan in March in the hope of stirring up opposition to whaling, but it was unable to hold any events onboard.
"In general, interest in whaling is very low in Japan and many Japanese don't regard whaling as a matter of the environment," Shirokawa said.
"We plan to expand our communication, particularly with young generations, to let them understand that whales are playing an important role in the maritime ecological system."
earlier related report
"It was a very bad conference for Japan," Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull said of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting in Alaska.
After losing its bid to overturn the two-decades-old moratorium on commercial whaling, Japan threatened to pull out of the 77-nation IWC and start a breakaway group.
"I think their huge dummy-spit at the end will not reflect well on Tokyo," Turnbull told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
"I think the Japanese government really has to sit back and ask itself, looking at the debacle that was Japan's outcome at the whaling conference... 'Can we continue to fly in the face of world opinion on this issue?'."
Australia is a leading opponent of the resumption of commercial whaling and a strong critic of Japan's "scientific" whaling programme, under which it kills hundreds of whales each year.
This year, it wants to include on the hit list 50 humpback whales from stocks that migrate annually from Antarctic waters along the Australian coast to their breeding grounds in the tropical Pacific.
The plan has caused outrage in Australia, where whale-watching is a multi-million dollar industry with boats taking tourists to see the giant mammals making their way up the country's east coast.
Turnbull said engaging Japan over whaling had to be done constructively.
"Whaling is essentially a nationalistic issue in Japan, that's its support base, so the engagement with Japan has to be as a friend, it has to be candid, it has to be constructive.
"If you threaten Japan ... they dig their heels in."
But he rejected the suggestion that accusing Tokyo of a "dummy-spit" was far from constructive.
"It's not accusing them of a dummy-spit, their own mothers would recognise they did a dummy-spit," he said.
"To stand up at the end of the conference and say: 'That's it, we're threatening to pull out' -- that is a dummy-spit on any view."
Source: Agence France-Presse
International Whaling Commission (IWC)
Follow the Whaling Debate
Vote Boycott Over Japan Mars Whaling Talks
Anchorage (AFP) Alaska, May 30, 2007
An unprecedented voting boycott of a resolution on Japan's "lethal" whale hunts marred talks Wednesday of the International Whaling Commission and intensified rifts in the 75-nation group. The resolution urging Japan to suspend the "lethal aspects" of its scientific whaling program was adopted 40-2 but prompted a boycott by Japan and 26 other mostly pro-whaling nations making up more than one third of the IWC.
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