Anti-whaling nations against Japan coastal whaling

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) - Anti-whaling nations said on Monday they oppose Japan’s proposal to permit whale hunting in its coastal communities and will push for Japanese concessions on other issues.

A humpback whale breaches the surface off the southern Japanese island of Okinawa in this February 13, 2007 file photo. Anti-whaling nations said on Monday they oppose Japan's proposal to permit whale hunting in its coastal communities and will push for Japanese concessions on other issues. REUTERS/Issei Kato

On the first day of the International Whaling Commission’s annual meeting, the United States and its anti-whaling allies said they see Japan’s proposal as a way to resume commercial whaling through the backdoor.

“Japan’s proposal for coastal whaling is, in effect, a partial resumption of commercial whaling,” said Malcolm Turnbull, Australia’s environment minister, at a news conference.

The group of allies, which included Australia, New Zealand, Britain, Brazil, Argentina and Germany, said they will not engage in “horse trading,” even if Japan compromised on its controversial plan to hunt 50 humpback whales next year as part of its scientific research program.

Japan, which has obeyed a 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling but uses a loophole to hunt whales for scientific research, has argued that it sees no difference between commercial whaling and noncommercial whaling by aboriginal groups.

Japan said it would introduce a proposal this week that would allow four coastal communities to catch a small number of minke whales under a hunting exemption used by aboriginal communities.

Japan also said its proposal would not result in a net increase of minke whales caught, because, if passed, it would reduce the number of minke whales caught under its scientific research program.

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Joji Morishita, Japan’s deputy whaling commissioner, said his country is open to dialogue on all issues, including its plan to add humpback whales to its annual Antarctic hunt, which currently takes minke and fin whales.

Ministers from Australia and New Zealand asked Japan to call off the plans to hunt humpback whales as a sign of goodwill, but said it would not use the coastal whaling issue as a bargaining chip.

“We know that there are very strong emotions, especially in Australia and New Zealand, about this particular species,” Morishita said. “Hopefully we can have mutual acceptance of difference.”

Japan is expected to offer its proposal on Tuesday when the commission debates the renewal of five-year aboriginal whaling quotas.

Alaska Natives, who use whale meat as a staple in their diet and for cultural practices, are counting on this international permit that allows them to hunt in the tradition of their ancestors and share meat among fellow villagers.

The U.S. delegation said its top priority will be to obtain a renewed quota that allows Alaska Natives to kill 41 bowhead whales a year.

“It is more than a right. It is an absolute necessity,” Sen. Ted Stevens, an Alaska Republican, said in an address to the commission.

Japan’s Morishita said it will back renewed quotas for Alaska Natives and will not link its own coastal community proposal with that issue.

Also up for renewal are aboriginal quotas for natives in the Russian Far East, Greenland and other small indigenous communities.