The proposal will come before the 88 IWC member countries at their annual meeting held this year in June in Agadir, Morocco.
If adopted, the whaling nations would agree to catch limits set by the IWC that are below present self-set levels. They would also agree to an oversight and enforcement arrangement.
As proposed, several thousand fewer whales will be caught over the 10-year period than would have been caught if the present situation of exceptions to the moratorium for "research" and commercial purposes.
IWC Chair Cristian Maquieira of Chile said, "For the first time since the adoption of the commercial whaling moratorium, we will have strict, enforceable limits on all whaling operations. As a result, several thousand less whales will be killed over the period of the agreement. In addition, no other IWC countries will be permitted to start hunting whales during the period."
The proposal also creates a South Atlantic Sanctuary, which South American nations have repeatedly proposed at IWC meetings without success. It recognizes the non-lethal value and uses of whales, such as whale watching, as a management option for coastal states and addresses related scientific, conservation and management issues of such uses.
"This proposal represents an historic step, a paradigm shift in how the Commission would operate," said IWC Vice-Chair Anthony Liverpool of Antigua and Barbuda. "Rather than the mistrust and confrontation that have led to little progress, we now have the opportunity to reconcile our differences, and so strengthen actions related to our shared goal of maintaining healthy whale populations and recovering depleted stocks."
Minke whale aboard a Japanese whaling vessel in the western North Pacific Ocean. (Photo courtesy Institute of Cetacean Research)
Japanese Agriculture Minister Hirotaka Akamatsu called the draft proposal "significant progress."
"We praise it for adding small-type coastal whaling, which we have patiently and persistently asked for," he said. "It's good that openly acknowledges whaling rather than under a category like research, which carries a nuance that it should be restricted."
Under the proposal, Japan's current self-set annual quota of 935 Antarctic minke whales would be lowered to 400 over the next five years, then cut to 200 for the next five years. The country's current quota of 320 sei and minke whales in coastal waters would be cut to 210.
As drafted, the proposal would allow 69 bowhead whales, 50 sei whales, 12 Bryde's whales, 145 gray whales, 14 humpbacks and 109 fin whales to be hunted each year around the world. No sperm whales could be killed.
But this and all other catch quotas in the proposal are by no means definite.
Maquieira and Liverpool state, "The only inevitable result of the example numbers we have included in Table 4 is that as a package they will disliked by all for one reason or another, including ourselves. They are merely there to stimulate the necessary intense discussions and negotiations prior to Agadir."
U.S. Whaling Commissioner Monica Medina said, "The United States affirms its support of the commercial whaling moratorium and will oppose any proposal that would lift the moratorium."
"When the moratorium on commercial whaling began in 1986, it had an immediate beneficial impact. Over time, however, loopholes in the rules allowed more and more commercial hunting. To date, 35,000 whales have been hunted and killed since the moratorium began."
New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully said the proposal "falls seriously short" of providing a realistic basis for a diplomatic solution to the whaling issue.
"The proposed consensus decision put forward by the IWC Chair and Vice Chair has not delivered what New Zealand wants," McCully said. "The catch limits proposed in the Southern Ocean are unrealistic. The proposal to include fin whales in the Southern Ocean is inflammatory. New Zealanders will not accept this."
"New Zealand has always said that the proposal must offer significant improvement over the status quo and that any proposal will be tested against our commitment to stop whaling in the Southern Ocean," said McCully. "This does not meet those tests."
Environmental groups are opposed to any attempt to legitimize whaling in any form.
Sea Shepherd founder Captain Paul Watson said Sea Shepherd ships will return to the Southern Ocean Sanctuary to interfere with the Japanese whaling vessels there for a seventh year "unless a kill quota of zero whale kills is established."
Humpback whales in Australia's Hervey Bay (Photo Michael Dawes)
During the 2009-2010 season in the Southern Ocean, Watson says intervention by the three Sea Shepherd ships saved 528 whales out of the 935 minke whales, 50 endangered fin whales and 50 endangered humpback whales for which the Japanese government had issued permits.
No humpback whales were taken, only one fin whale was killed and 506 Antarctic minke whales were taken by the Japanese "research" vessels.
"The killing of even one whale is a violation of international conservation law," said Watson. "In addition to protecting the lives of individual whales we are also defending the integrity of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. Whaling ships from Japan or anywhere else have no legal right to kill whales within the Sanctuary."
"You cannot legalize commercial whaling in the waters south of 60 degrees without violating the Antarctic Treaty that prohibits commercial activity in the waters around the continent of Antarctica," Watson said.
Greenpeace Japan Programme Director Junichi Sato said, "It appears that the whales are making all the concessions, not the whalers and this proposal keeps dying whaling industries alive and not the whales."
"The IWC members now must take this proposal forward, end commercial whaling and transform the IWC into a body that conserves and not just manages whales," said Sato.
"This plan a whaler's wish list," said Patrick Ramage, Whale Program director with the International Fund for Animal Welfare. "It throws a lifeline to a dying industry when endangered whale populations face more threats than ever before. This would be a breathtaking reversal of decades of U.S. leadership and conservation progress at the IWC."
The proposal comes after several years of discussions about changing the IWC's whaling management regime by a Small Working Group that includes the whaling nations.
Last September, a Support Group was added to the discussions, including Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, Brazil, Cameroon, Germany, Iceland, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, St. Kitts and Nevis, Sweden and the United States. Norway was invited by the chairman to participate as an observer.
In offering the draft proposal, Chairman Maquieira and Vice Chairman Liverpool emphasized that the document does "not represent an agreed approach of the Support Group or the Small Working Group."
"In fact," said the chair and vice chair, "neither does it necessarily represent our own views regarding the content of a finally agreed document. Rather it is being put forward to facilitate the necessary further discussions leading up to 62nd annual IWC meeting in Agadir."
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