Whaling nations Japan, Norway and Iceland may take a step towards ending a 20-year moratorium on hunting at an international meeting in mid-June, Norway's top whaling official said on Thursday.
OSLO Whaling nations Japan, Norway and Iceland may take a step towards ending a 20-year moratorium on hunting at an international meeting in mid-June, Norway's top whaling official said on Thursday.
Whaling Commissioner Karsten Klepsvik said there was a chance of a slim pro-whaling majority at the June 16-20 International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting in the Caribbean island state of St Kitts and Nevis.
But he acknowledged that there was no chance of the three quarters of the vote needed to end the moratorium, imposed after many whale species had been hunted to the brink of extinction.
"The balance has shifted" from the 1990s when opponents of whaling had huge majorities, Klepsvik told Reuters.
"Last year the two sides were almost in balance," he said of a meeting in South Korea where the anti-whalers kept a narrow majority. "Now it's even more unclear."
The IWC has 67 members but typically only about 50 turn up at the talks, where some can be ineligible to vote because of technicalities. Recent members include pro-whaling Gambia and Togo while anti-whaling Israel plans to join.
Norway is hunting 1,052 minke whales in the North Atlantic this year, the highest since a moratorium on hunts was agreed in 1986. Japan caught 850 minke whales and 10 fin whales in a just-ended Antarctic hunt, and Iceland caught 25 minkes in 2005.
The three have ignored appeals by anti-whalers who denounce the hunts as cruel abuse of the world's biggest creatures. Whalers say stocks of minke whales -- a small species whose meat is eaten as steaks, hamburgers or as sushi -- are robust.
A simple majority would be enough, for instance, to ask the U.N.'s Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to lift a ban on trade in minke whales. Any appeal to resume trade would strain the moratorium.
Or a pro-whaling majority could order the IWC to revive what Klepsvik said was moribund research into assessing quotas and catch rules. "We have talked for 20 years and what have we achieved? Nothing at all," he said.
Klepsvik said countries including Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil and Argentina had toughened their anti-whaling stances, and urged the United States to try to broker a compromise that would permit strictly regulated hunts of the giant marine mammals.
"If anyone can play the role of bridge-builder ... it's the United States," Klepsvik said, adding that while Washington opposed whaling "it is in practice more pragmatic, not fanatical about it." The 2007 IWC meeting will be held in Alaska.
Sue Lieberman, director of the global species programme at the WWF conservation group, said there was a "strong chance" of a pro-whaling majority this month. She said Japan might use a majority to undermine broad conservation measures for whales.
"A number of the countries that have joined recently have been recruited by Japan," she said. Whaling nations in turn say that countries such as land-locked Switzerland and Austria, both against whaling, have no reason to be members.