Showdown looms over Japan's plan for commercial whaling

Three dead  Minke Whales lie on the deck of the Japanese ship Nisshin Maru, in the Southern Ocean, January 5, 2014.

The pro and anti-hunting nations are preparing for a confrontation when the International Whaling Commission (IWC) meets in Brazil starting on Monday, when Japan leads an attack on a three-decade moratorium on commercial whaling.

Tokyo heads for the biennial meeting as president of the 88-nation body determined to reorganize what it says is a dysfunctional organization mired in dispute and unable to make key decisions.

But Japan's package of proposals, titled "The way forward", has left conservationists furious even before delegates have taken their seats at the 67th IWC meeting at the Brazilian surf resort of Florianapolis.

They say it is a blatant attempt to repeal the 1986 moratorium and restore commercial whaling.

"This meeting is critical," said Patrick Ramage of the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

"The member countries must remain united and promote progress towards the protection of whales, not allowing this commission to be returned to the last era of commercial whaling."

Australia will vote against Japan's plan

Brazil, as the host country, is trying to unite nations against whaling with a "Declaration of Florianópolis" that insists that commercial whaling is no longer a necessary economic activity and would allow the recovery of all Whale populations at pre-industrial hunting levels.

The Australian delegation is headed by Anne Ruston, the new Deputy Minister for International Development and the Pacific.

In a statement, he said Australia would vote against Japan's plan to allow commercial whaling.

"Australia will continue to oppose any effort to revoke the global moratorium on commercial whaling, and will call like-minded nations to join us in rejecting any proposal to allow commercial whaling," he said.

"We will also oppose any attempt to weaken the Commission's decision-making rules or set catch limits for commercial whaling."

Alexia Wellbelove, of Humane Society International, said it is important that Japan's plan does not advance.

"We do not need whale meat or any other product," he told SBS News.

"Whales are slow-reproducing, long-lived animals are extremely vulnerable to exploitation, and the recent killing of a potentially hybrid bluefin whale in Iceland shows how difficult it is to know what you are killing when you are killing.

"So I think we should be aware of that, and be aware that the vast majority of the members of the International Whaling Commission do not support whaling, and we hope it will continue to be that way."

Other key issues discussed at the weeklong meeting are the risks to whales from man-made underwater noise pollution, attacks on boats, climate change and "ghost gear" entanglements, where whales are increasingly caught by abandoned fishing gear.

The whaling nations plan to renew a long-standing proposal for the creation of a whale sanctuary in the South Atlantic, after previous proposals were rejected by the pro-whaling lobby.

& # 39; Scientific research & # 39;

Japan formally observes the moratorium but exploits a loophole of "scientific research" to kill hundreds of animals each year, despite international criticism.

He has regularly sought to alleviate the IWC's ban on commercial whaling, and new President Joji Morishita says there must be major changes at the Florianapolis meeting to break the stalemate between pro and anti-whaling countries.

Japan argues that populations of minke whales and other species have recovered and proposes to establish new catch quotas "for species whose populations are recognized as healthy by the scientific committee of the IWC".

Among the reforms proposed by Japan is a change in the rules that would allow decisions to be made by simple majority, eliminating the current practice of a three-quarters majority needed.

Japan says that the decision-making power of the commission is hampered by this rule, due to the gap between supporters and opponents of whaling.

It also wants to establish a "Sustainable Whaling Committee" that would create catch quotas for nations that wish to allow their nationals to hunt healthy populations of whales for commercial purposes.

Before the IWC meeting, Australia said it would "vehemently oppose" any attempt to undermine the moratorium.

Moratorium still in place

The moratorium, agreed in 1986 amid fears that some species were becoming extinct, remains in force, with some exceptions.

Iceland and Norway are the only countries that allow commercial whaling and are likely to receive renewed pressure at the IWC meeting, which runs through Friday.

Iceland has been under direct pressure to stop whaling by the European Union, sparking international protests in 2014. The Reykjavik government defied criticism and authorized the country's whale hunters to catch 238 whales by the end of this year. Fine whales are considered endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

In addition, Aboriginal subsistence hunting is allowed in several countries, including the United States, Russia, Greenland and St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the Caribbean.

Conservation groups oppose a proposal to the IWC to increase annual whaling kill quotas for these countries, and automatic renewal of quotas every six years, without consulting the scientific committee of the IWC.