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Whaling Meet-Up Focuses On Clean-Up

July 11, 2011

This year’s International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting in the Channel Islands is expected to include hot topics on whaling by indigenous peoples and reforms to prevent “votes for cash” allegations.

The UK is proposing reforms to make the IWC more open, while some are angry about US plans to maintain hunting by Alaskan natives.

The meeting will also discuss proposals to ensure good practice in the whale-watching industry worldwide, and a bid to make the South Atlantic a sanctuary for whales. Countries against whaling are expected to criticize Iceland and Norway for their continuation in commercial whale harvesting.

In the past, it was Japan that was the center of debate over commercial whale hunting. But its plans are currently unclear and criticisms may be muted as the country is still digging out from the recent earthquake and tsunami.

“There’s been a huge loss of life in coastal communities in Japan, including among many in the fishing industry and those associated with whaling – that’s understood, and our sympathies go out to them,” said UK Environment Minister Richard Benyon.

“Japan is a country that Britain is close to and supportive of in their hour of need – but we do disagree on whaling, and we aim to… have a constructive conversation about it,” Benyon told BBC News.

It remains unclear if Japan intends to continue with its annual Antarctic whale hunts. Its most recent whaling season ended early, with officials admitting the fleet could not cope with harassment by Sea Shepherd Conservation Society vessels.

Whaling around the Japanese coast is continuing, however, despite the destruction cause by the tsunami on one of the country’s main ports — Ayukawa.

One of this year’s top reform proposals will the UK’s proposal that the government should have to pay their membership subscriptions by bank transfer, creating an audible trail. Currently, subscriptions can be paid in cash. Rumors flew about developing countries’ delegates turned up with bags of money, with claims of most of it coming from Japan, in return for their support in Japanese whaling.

“[The IWC] has been going since 1946, and it needs to modernize its procedures so it doesn’t leave itself open to the kinds of allegations made a year ago,” said Benyon.

Other proposed reforms include prompt publication of minutes and decisions, the acceptance only of properly reviewed science, and more involvement for non-governmental organizations.

The UK proposal failed to find unanimous EU support – reportedly because Denmark, which represents Greenlanders rather than Danes within the IWC, would not back it. And Tomas Heidar, who heads Iceland’s delegation, suggested it would not meet with universal approval.

“There are some elements in the proposal that are totally unacceptable to us,” Heidar told the British news agency.

Iceland recently opened talks with the EU over joining the 27-nation union. With the EU opposed to whaling, it could prove to be a key issue, alongside wider concerns that EU fishing boats could be given access to the bountiful Icelandic waters.

Last year’s IWC meeting in Morocco marked the end of a two-year “peace process” aiming to find a compromise from both sides of the whaling issue. Even without clear agreement from both sides, parties say relations have proven constructive.

“The atmosphere within the IWC has improved and relations between delegations on the two sides have improved – there’s more respect for different views and it is now less likely that the IWC will fall apart,” Heidar told BBC News.

“We don’t expect much to happen at this meeting, but we will naturally make use of the event to underline our policy which is all about sustainable use of living marine resources. In recent years we have experienced a growing understanding for this concept,” he said.

The US played a significant role in the “peace process,” which garnered it a lot of criticism from anti-whaling organizations.

This year, New Zealand joined the US in bringing a motion asking the IWC to “encourage continuing dialogue” between governments regarding to commission’s future.

Some campaigners say this shows the US is continuing to appease Japan so it will not block a bid to renew subsistence hunting quotas for indigenous Inupiat communities in Alaska when that issue comes up for review next year.

Indigenous whaling is usually relatively uncontroversial, despite the fact its record is notably worse than commercial hunts in terms of how long whales take to die. Although, that may not be the case this time.

“The issue of US meddling is so serious as to warrant bringing the ‘Aboriginal’ whaling issue from under the rug where most everyone tries to keep it,” said Jose Truda Palazzo of the Latin American Cetacean Conservation Center.

“It is widely known that most communities who benefit from this exemption no longer actually ‘need’ it for survival, although some arguably do have cultural claims,” he said. “Latin America has an enormous discomfort with what the US has been doing over the ‘Future of the IWC’ process in trying to pass appeasement resolutions for a deal at any cost to get Japanese support for its quotas in 2012, and also we would like to have to have a wider, more open review of the legitimacy of aboriginal claims.”

Among other things, the US wants to explore the idea of issuing quotas indefinitely, rather than in five-year chunks as now, which may bring even more fighting from both sides.

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