WASHINGTON Japan, Norway and Iceland may be allowed to kill a limited number of whales for the first time in 24 years under a proposal criticized by whaling nations and opponents of the hunts Friday.
The three nations established quotas for their whaling industries, despite an international moratorium in 1986, by claiming the hunts were for scientific purposes.
A compromise plan by leaders of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) would force the trio to cut their quotas for 10 years while the IWC worked out a long-term solution by 2020.
"This is a request to whaling nations to give up whaling," said Karsten Klepsvik, a senior Norwegian foreign ministry official who represents Oslo at the 88-nation IWC. "Nobody likes this proposal and accordingly it will not survive."
Between 4,000 and 18,000 whales could be saved over the next decade under the revised IWC deal aimed at preventing the collapse of the commission.
Cristian Maquieira, the Chilean chairman of the IWC, and vice chairman Anthony Liverpool had correctly predicted in outlining the proposals that "as a package they will be disliked by all for one reason or another."
Japan's Fisheries Minister Hirotaka Akamatsu said a proposed cut in minke whale catches in the Antarctic Ocean was "too drastic," Kyodo news agency said. The proposals will be debated at the next IWC annual meeting in Agadir, Morocco, in June.
Anti-whaling nations also opposed the plan.
"The catch limits proposed in the Southern Ocean are unrealistic. The proposal to include fin whales in the Southern Ocean is inflammatory. New Zealanders will not accept this," New Zealand's Foreign Minister Murray McCully said in a statement.
The United States said it would consider the plan but it would oppose any proposal that lifted the moratorium.
"When the moratorium on commercial whaling began in 1986, it had an immediate beneficial impact," Monica Medina, a Commerce Department official who represents Washington at the commission, said in a statement.
Medina said that, over time, "loopholes in the rules" allowed more whaling, with 35,000 whales hunted and killed since the ban started. Japan, Norway and Iceland say some whale species have recovered and are plentiful enough for hunts.
The European Commission, which coordinates the European Union's position at the IWC, said it would study the proposal with EU member states and try to reach a common position before the Morocco meeting.
Environmentalists were scathing of any approval for hunts of the giant mammals, which are eaten in dishes from sushi to steaks. "This proposal keeps dying whaling industries alive and not the whales," said Junichi Sato of Greenpeace Japan.
Maquieira said compromise was the only way forward: "For the first time since the adoption of the commercial whaling moratorium, we will have strict, enforceable limits on all whaling operations."
There would be rigorous monitoring of whaling and no other nations could start whaling. The Southern Ocean would be designated as a sanctuary.
Klepsvik said that whaling nations had felt betrayed before -- the 1986 moratorium was initially agreed in 1981 with a promise of a long-term solution for whaling by 1991, he said.
(Additional reporting by Charlie Dunmore in Brussels and Alister Doyle in Oslo; Editing by Eric Beech and Robert Woodward)
For Reuters latest environment blogs, click on: blogs.reuters.com/environment/