TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan and like-minded pro-whaling nations took a step toward their goal of resuming commercial whaling on Tuesday at a special meeting of the International Whaling Commission.
Japan wants to shift the commission’s focus to whale management rather than a moratorium, but with some 26 anti-whaling nations — including Australia, New Zealand and the United States — boycotting the meeting, prospects for dialogue in the polarized organization were slim.
Thirty-four of the commission’s 72 members were attending, the three-day meeting, which Japanese officials have termed a final attempt to save the commission by drafting proposals to submit at its annual meeting in May.
“One of our goals is to improve the atmosphere of the IWC, which has become one of confrontation, and to improve dialogue,” Minoru Morimoto, Japan’s IWC commissioner, told the meeting.
“It’s a shame most anti-whaling nations chose confrontation,” he said, adding he hoped the commission would at its May meeting seriously consider normalization, Japanese “code” for resuming commercial hunting.
Joji Morishita, Japan’s alternate commissioner, told Reuters the organization was at a critical juncture.
“I think the IWC is on the point of either amending itself — or it will collapse.”
Bruno Mainini, a delegate from Switzerland — which takes a generally neutral stance but opposes lifting the whaling ban — said the sharp rise in the number of whales being hunted shows that anti-whalers have to compromise too.
“Keeping to an extreme position of protection, not killing even one whale, doesn’t really help, I think,” he added.
Late on Tuesday, activists in the Southern Ocean withdrew a threat to ram a Japanese whaling fleet after a Monday clash.
In Tokyo, an anti-whaling protester wearing a mask of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s face carried a signboard saying “Welcome to the commercialization meeting”. Another activist was dressed as a weeping whale.
Pasted to the sign were 10,000 yen ($82) notes and names of several countries, an allusion to charges by anti-whalers that Japan had bought pro-whaling votes at the IWC with foreign aid. Japan has repeatedly denied the allegations.
The IWC instituted a commercial whaling ban in 1986. But the group is now bitterly divided between countries that assert all whales need protection and others, like Japan, that say some species are now abundant enough for limited hunting.
Japan, which says whaling is a cherished cultural tradition, began scientific research whaling in 1987. The meat, which under commission rules must be sold for consumption, ends up in supermarkets and pricey restaurants but is far from a daily menu choice.
Some experts say Japan fears that limits on whaling will lead to limits on all Japanese fishing, a crucial food source in a nation with limited agricultural land.