Talks confirmed on Japanese whaling deal

January 27, 2009 5:00:06 AM PST
The International Whaling Commission is considering a plan to allow Japan to hunt whales locally in return for scaling back its activities in the Antarctic Ocean, officials said Tuesday.

Under the plan, Japan would be allowed to conduct commercial whaling off its coast in exchange for reducing the number of whales it plans to kill this season in the Antarctic - up to 935 minke whales and 50 fin whales.

Under International Whaling Commission rules, the mammals may be killed for research but not for commercial purposes. Opponents say the Japanese research expeditions are a cover for commercial whaling, which was banned in 1986.

The proposal, first published in The Washington Post newspaper on Sunday, did not specify how many whales Japan would be allowed to kill either off its coast or in the Antarctic.

Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith confirmed that his government was involved in discussions on the plan. He added, however, that Australia was "a long way" from accepting the deal.

"Our long-term objective is for the Japanese to cease whaling altogether," Smith told Australian Broadcasting Corp. television.

Japanese fisheries agency official Hiromi Isa said his country was hoping to resolve a deadlock between pro- and anti-whaling members since the 84-member IWC imposed a moratorium on commercial whaling in 1986.

Japan maintains that its whaling is solely for scientific research.

A loophole in IWC rules allows Japan to continue whaling for scientific research - off its coast and elsewhere - and to sell the meat.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare criticized the plan for "rewarding Japanese intransigence" on whaling.

"It reflects an orientation to be negotiating the terms under which whaling can continue rather than negotiating an end to commercial whaling in the 21st century," the conservation group's whale program director Patrick Ramage told The Associated Press by telephone from Yarmouthport, Mass.

IWC rules state that any change to the whaling moratorium would require the support of 75 percent of the 63 IWC member nations.

Any country can lodge an objection to such a change to avoid being bound by it.

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