Japan on Monday proposed the end of a decades-old ban on commercial whaling at an international conference, arguing that there is no longer a scientific reason for what was supposed to be a temporary measure.
But the proposal faces strong opposition from countries that argue that many whale populations remain vulnerable or, even more broadly, that whale killing is considered increasingly unacceptable.
Currently, Japan kills whales according to a provision that allows hunting for research purposes.
"The science is clear: there are certain species of whales whose population is healthy enough to be harvested sustainably," says the Japanese proposal, presented Monday at the biannual meetings of the International Whaling Commission that take place this week in Florianópolis , Brazil.
"Japan proposes to establish a Committee dedicated to the sustainable hunting of whales (including commercial whaling and Aboriginal subsistence)."
Japan's proposal would also change the way the international body operates, reflecting its frustration with an organization that says it has become "intolerant" and a "mere forum of confrontation."
He says he hopes the new rules – including allowing the measures to be adopted by a simple majority, instead of a supreme one – will break the long-standing stalemates and allow countries that value conservation and those that promote sustainable use whales "coexist."
While Japan argues that whale stocks have recovered enough to allow commercial hunting, conservationists argue that whaling on the high seas has proven difficult to manage.
"Time after time, species after species has led to near extinction," said Patrick Ramage, director of marine conservation at the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
It is not clear when the vote will take place; The meeting lasts until Friday. It is also possible that the Japanese withdraw the proposal or try to negotiate the inclusion of parts of it in other proposals.
Japan has hunted whales for centuries as an alternative source of traditionally cheaper protein. Its catch has declined in recent years partly due to the decrease in domestic demand for whale meat and the challenges for its hunting.
His quota is now 333, about a third of the number he used to kill before the International Court of Justice ruled in 2014 that his program was not scientific in nature. Reviewed the program and resumed the search in 2016.
Some, however, claim that the research program remains a cover for commercial whaling because whale meat is sold as food.
The attempt to reintroduce commercial whaling could be even more controversial.
Brazil submitted a proposal that says whaling "is no longer a necessary economic activity, it has systematically reduced whale populations to dangerously low levels."
The United States agrees that the ban is necessary for conservation.
"Australians have clearly made the decision that they do not believe that whaling is something we should undertake in the 21st century," said Anne Ruston, Australia's Minister of International Development and the Pacific, on the sidelines of Monday's meetings.
"The argument that we present from Australia is that we do not want to see any dead whales, either
they kill them because (of) the commercial hunting of whales or of the so-called scientific hunting ".
The commission declared a "pause" for commercial whaling from the 1985-1986 season, but it is still valid today.
The killing of whales is allowed for research purposes, as in the Japan program, and for indigenous communities that practice subsistence hunting.
Australia says that non-lethal research techniques actually reveal more information about whales than can be learned by killing them.
The United States also opposes hunting for lethal research, but both countries support the exception for subsistence whalers.
Japan says that it uses lethal and non-lethal methods, but that certain information can only be obtained after killing.