Friday, February 12, 2010

Japan wants deal to scale down 'scientific' whaling

Japan will propose scaling down its troubled annual whale hunt in Antarctica on condition it is allowed to whale commercially in its own coastal waters, a fisheries official said Wednesday.

Tokyo will present its proposal to the International Whaling Commission (IWC) at its annual meeting in Morocco in June, the official said, even though a similar plan was rejected by the 85-nation body last year.

"We have been studying ways to reach a packaged agreement and to normalise the IWC activities," said the Fisheries Agency official, who declined to provide specific details of Tokyo's proposal. "The efforts continue today."

Japanese whalers kill hundreds of the mammals a year in Antarctic waters, where their fleet has repeatedly clashed in recent months with militant environmental activists of the Sea Shepherd society.

Commercial whaling has been banned worldwide since 1986, but Japan justifies its hunts as scientific research, while not hiding the fact that the whale meat is later sold in shops and restaurants.

The Sea Shepherds said they exchanged water cannon blasts with Japanese fishermen Monday and accused the whalers of ramming their vessel, the Bob Barker, two days earlier, leaving a metre (three-foot) long gash in its stern.

Last month, the group's futuristic powerboat Ady Gil was sliced in two and sank after a collision with one of the Japanese ships, leading both Australia and New Zealand to call for restraint on all sides.

At last year's IWC talks, anti-whaling countries rejected Japan's offer to scale down its south Pacific culls if it is allowed to commercially hunt 150 minke whales a year in its coastal waters.

Agriculture Minister Hirotaka Akamatsu this month said he would like to submit the proposal personally at the IWC, and that Japanese officials were already in talks with other nations on reaching a compromise.

"If possible, I myself would go to an IWC meeting and propose and demand approval for the commercial catching of minke whales along Japanese coasts," he said last week, saying Japan was ready for some compromises.

The IWC was set up in 1946 by 15 whale-hunting nations to manage a whale population threatened by the fishing industry. The body now has 85 members and has taken an increasingly conservationist approach.

In 1986, it instituted a ban on commercial whaling that still stands today.

The body has been deadlocked in recent years by divisions between countries such as Japan that say the dangers of whaling are exaggerated and other nations like Australia which want the whaling ban to be kept in place.

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