Culture and conservation will clash during this week's meeting of the International Whaling Commission, with some nations pushing for more whales to be caught, while others remain firmly opposed.
ULSAN, South Korea Culture and conservation will clash during this week's meeting of the International Whaling Commission, with some nations pushing for more whales to be caught, while others remain firmly opposed.
Pro-whaling nations such as Japan and Norway want to expand their catch and protect what they see as a cherished tradition, but countries like Britain, New Zealand and Australia are seeking more curbs on whaling and want some areas of the world's oceans to be made off limits.
They argue that whaling is cruel and unnecessary for countries like Japan, which has the world's second largest economy and no longer needs whale meat as a protein source for its people.
Opponents accuse Japan of cynically exploiting loopholes in the International Whaling Commission (IWC) charter that allow for scientific whaling and say the whale meat ends up in restaurants anyway.
Japan fisheries officials have said they could walk out of the meeting if they feel it is being taken over by the most aggressive nations in the anti-whaling campaign. But even if Japan leaves the meeting, its parliament must approve any decision to formally leave the IWC.
Whaling nations are pushing for a lifting of the 19-year-old moratorium on commercial whaling. Even with the ban, about 1,400 whales are killed every year under a variety of exemptions, including what Japan calls scientific research whaling.
"The IWC was set up to regulate commercial whaling. The sole goal of Japan is to see it resumed. There is no reason why it can't be done on a sustainable basis," said Joji Morishita, a senior international affairs officer at Japan's Fisheries Agency.
With new members joining the IWC and others dropping out, the new makeup of the body could give pro-whaling groups a slim majority at the annual meeting, which opens on Monday in Ulsan, a former South Korean whaling port, and ends on Friday.
Even so, the 75 percent majority needed to pass policy decisions makes it unlikely there will be any major changes.
One of the most contentious items that might come up is Japan's proposal to increase its annual intake of minke whales to 935 from 440 and to expand its hunt to include 10 fin whales a year for the next two years. By 2007-08, Japan wants to be allowed to hunt 40 fin whales and 50 humpback whales.
"Japan and its allies will be looking to to eliminate conservation from the IWC's agenda," said Sue Lieberman, a director at conservation group WWF International.
At last year's meeting in Italy, there was not enough support to pass a management scheme that would have ended the commercial whaling moratorium. The scheme aimed to impose tight controls on whalers while closing the loopholes.
The plan calls for international monitors to travel with the vessels and for DNA testing to make sure whale meat that ends up in restaurants matches the whale that was caught under the quota system.
This year the management scheme is also set to be a major focus, as some IWC members, and even a few conservation groups, see it as a worthy compromise.
The IWC was founded in 1946 to regulate whaling and protect the giant mammals that had been hunted to the edge of extinction, but the rise of environmentalism has gradually made it more protectionist in tone.