Japan angers conservationists in fight to drop ban on whaling

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The Independent Online

Japan was yesterday accused of being an enemy of global conservation after it led a coalition of countries in an attempt to overturn a ban on commercial hunting. Amid a welter of procedural wrangling and discord, the 53rd annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in London was split, with the 38 participating nations divided into two equal camps over whether Iceland, a pro-whaling country, could resume its fishing operation.

Conservationists accused Japan of orchestrating the division between pro and anti camps ahead of an attempt later this week to overturn the 15-year moratorium on commercial whaling.

Iceland, which last month rejoined the whaling body after resigning in 1992, put forward an opt-out resolution stating its wish to return to the IWC on condition that it reserves the right to recommence whaling at any time.

After a fractious debate, the resolution was rejected by 19 member countries, including the UK, with the remaining 19, led by the pro-whaling Japan and Norway, choosing either to abstain or boycott the vote.

Japan, which hunts minke whales for "scientific research", argued the Icelandic case by claiming that sovereign nations were permitted to declare their own opt-outs and that the IWC had no authority to reject them.

The Icelandic position was attacked by a several anti-whaling countries, including the UK, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina and Mexico. The British fisheries minister, Elliot Morley, described the opt-out as "outrageous", saying no country could join such a body and refuse to be bound by its rules.

Conservationists warned the IWC's state of deadlock was part of a long-term strategy by their pro-whaling opponents to pack the body with new members and use their support to replace the moratorium with a new structure that allowed commercial whaling.

Sarah Tyack, campaign manager for the International Fund for Animal Welfare, said: "Japan and its allies are the villains of the piece. They have created a situation of deadlock and frustration which will last until they can get sufficient numbers to overturn the ban. That is our very real fear."

The Japanese, whose delegation of 53 was twice the size of any other at the gathering, have been accused of recruiting small nations, including Grenada, Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda, Panama and the Solomon Islands, to their cause using an "aid-for-votes" programme of investment.

Last week, Masayuki Komatsu, international director of the Japanese Fisheries Agency, told an Australian broadcaster there was "nothing wrong" in linking aid with making joint cause with recipients over whaling.

"Pro-whaling countries are increasingly prepared to try every trick in the book to obtain a momentum towards commercial whaling," said one senior member of an anti-whaling delegation.Japan and Norway take 1,000 minke whales a year.

The Norwegians say their hunting is for domestic consumption although they want to export surplus blubber to Japan, which says whale meat is part of its cultural heritage,