4 Min Read
By Pav Jordan
SANTIAGO, June 20 (Reuters) - An International Whaling Commission meeting in Chile next week could decide the future of the deeply split panel as Japan, one of its most powerful members and the world's biggest whaler, seeks a compromise.
Some 80 countries at the Santiago meeting will take up issues ranging from whale stocks and whale killing methods to the booming business of whale watching.
The first IWC meeting in South America in 23 years, which runs Monday through Friday, also looks set to define the Latin America bloc of countries as the new champion of the world's biggest mammals.
IWC meetings are typically emotionally charged events, with pro- and anti-whalers lining up on either side of the debate, most of them against whaling.
But the lines have shifted in the past two years after pro-whalers narrowly won a nonbinding resolution saying a 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling was no longer necessary.
That move stirred acrimony between members, as a return to whale hunting appeared possible, and has prompted Japan to call for the commission's dissolution.
Japan has presented the IWC with a resolution to legalize coastal whaling. It is the same resolution that anti-whaling countries blocked a year ago, leading to threats from Japan that it would abandon the 62-year-old IWC.
"I think the Santiago meeting should be remembered as the meeting that saved the IWC, rather than the meeting which finally killed the IWC," said Joji Morishita, director for international negotiations at Japan's government Fisheries Agency.
"We are trying to send out the message that if we fail now, this organization will be dead, and that's a very important message," he told Reuters on Friday.
Japan, which considers whaling to be a cherished cultural tradition, halted commercial whaling in accordance with an IWC moratorium in 1986, but began what it calls "scientific research whaling" the following year.
Whale meat is sold in Japanese supermarkets and restaurants, though appetite for the delicacy is waning.
LATAM CLOUT AND TOURISM FOCUS
Many countries in the region that previously voted for commercial whaling have changed their votes in recent years as they adopt whale watching into their tourism industries.
"This time around Latin American countries will be strategic at the meeting," said Beatriz Bugeda, director for Latin America at the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).
Whale watching brings $1 billion in revenues to coastal communities in some 90 countries.
"In one phrase, a whale is worth more alive than dead," said Aimee Leslie, a spokeswoman for IFAW, adding that Nicaragua will vote against commercial whaling next week after years as a pro-whaling country.
The number of Latin American IWC member countries has been growing since 2005, when the anti-whaling Buenos Aires Group was formed in Argentina.
Chile generates about $20 million a year in whale watching and neighbor Argentina, with a 20-year-old whale watching industry, pulls in $60 million a year. (Additional reporting by Rodrigo Martinez in Santiago and Teruaki Ueno in Tokyo; Editing by Xavier Briand)