Dr. William Hogarth is director, National Marine Fisheries Service and chair of the IWC. (Photo courtesy NMFS)
Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura told a news conference today that William Hogarth of the United States, chair of the commission, who arrived in Japan on Tuesday, proposed to Japan's Fisheries Agency that humpback whaling be suspended, the Kyodo News Service reports.
The Japanese whaling fleet sailed for the Southern Ocean in November, planning to hunt about 850 minke whales, 50 fin whales and 50 humpbacks until mid-April under a provision of the Convention on Whaling that allows IWC member governments to set their own quotas for scientific or research whaling. This season's quota is Japan's largest.
Japan has set a whale hunt quota every year since the IWC imposed a global moratorium on commercial whaling in 1986. The moratorium was put in place to give whales a period of recovery after more than a century of whaling brought several species to the brink of extinction.
Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Masatoshi Wakabayashi (Photo courtesy Government of Japan)
Today, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Masatoshi Wakabayashi told reporters that the suspension on hunting humpbacks is subject to "the condition that the operations of the IWC be normalized as it is not functioning normally as a resources management body in the face of emotional clashes."
The IWC members have divided into a pro-whaling faction and an anti-whaling faction. In recent years, votes at IWC meetings have been narrowly won, with the anti-whaling group usually turning back proposals made by Japan and other pro-whaling nations.
The 1946 International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, under which the IWC was established, was originally supposed to manage a whaling industry. "The purpose of the Convention is to provide for the proper conservation of whale stocks and thus make possible the orderly development of the whaling industry," the IWC states on its website.
After the moratorium was set, the IWC began to develop the Revised Management Procedure, which it describes as "a scientifically robust method of setting safe catch limits for certain stocks (groups of whales of the same species living in a particular area) where the numbers are plentiful."
There has been pressure from Japan, Norway and Iceland to remove the moratorium for certain stocks of minke whales.
But the IWC says that before the Revised Management Procedure is implemented and the moratorium on commercial whaling lifted, "an inspection and observation scheme must be in place to ensure that agreed catch limits are not exceeded."
At this point discussions remain at an impasse.
Japan's decision to suspend the pursuit of humpback whales comes after Australia's new government said Wednesday that it would send a ship and aircraft to monitor Japanese whaling activities in the Australian Whale Sanctuary in the Southern Ocean. The Australians said they would diplomatic and legal steps to stop the Japanese whale hunt entirely.
Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura conveyed Japan's decision to halt humpback whaling to his Australian counterpart Stephen Smith in a telephone conversation today.
A humpback whale breaches in Hawaiian waters. (Photo courtesy Greenpeace)
Komura told reporters Smith said Australia welcomes the move but continues to call for a halt to all Japanese whaling activities, Kyodo reports.
When asked how long the suspension will continue, Komura said, "What Chairman Hogarth requested was one to two years. From the Japanese government's point of view, [the suspension will continue until] Japan can conclude that the [IWC discussion] process is moving back on track."
"This move can be seen as a bold step forward in breaking the impasse over whaling that has burdened the IWC for many years," said Hogarth. "Japan has shown that it is serious about working to preserve the IWC."
While Dr. Hogart is the present chair of the IWC, the vice-chair is Minoru Morimoto, who heads the Institute of Cetacean Research in Tokyo, which operates Japan's whaling program.
"I commend Bill for his determined leadership on this issue and his years of service on the International Whaling Commission," said Carlos Gutierrez, secretary of the U.S. Commerce Department, which includes the National Marine Fisheries Service. "His efforts, along with those of the Japanese vice-chairman, will reduce tensions among commission members and shape how negotiations within the IWC are conducted in the future."
Whale conservation groups say the suspension is a good move, but a complete halt to Japanese whaling is needed.
"This is happy news for 50 humpback whales but Japan's whaling continues to expand," said Patrick Ramage, Global Whale Program Manager with the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
"Withdrawing wild threats to kill humpbacks isn't enough, Japan needs to stop whaling and join the emerging global consensus for whale conservation," he said.
Greenpeace said, "The news that humpback whales will be spared this season from Japanese harpooners is a victory for Greenpeace supporters all over the world who have joined with us in demanding action from their governments, participated in promoting non-lethal alternatives to whale research."
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.