Japan to form breakaway pro-whaling group

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The Independent Online

A bitter dispute that has simmered for nearly two decades between pro- and anti-whale hunting nations looks set to come to the boil next week when Japan will present a plan to break with the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and form its own pro-whaling organisation.

A bitter dispute that has simmered for nearly two decades between pro- and anti-whale hunting nations looks set to come to the boil next week when Japan will present a plan to break with the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and form its own pro-whaling organisation.

Whaling supporters in Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) are threatening to sabotage the commission's annual meeting in the Italian resort of Sorrento from 19 to 22 July by luring the IWC members that still support commercial hunting into an alternative alliance with pro-whaling nations, including Norway and Iceland.

The plans are outlined in a paper, which the LDP lobby group has handed to the BBC and which describes the IWC as "totally dysfunctional".

The move follows years of tension between Japan and the IWC, which imposed a moratorium on commercial whale hunting in 1986 in an attempt to prevent the extinction of a number of endangered species. Debate about conservation versus hunting at IWC annual meetings since has grown increasingly heated.

Discussion about whale-hunting in Japan is tinged with nationalism, with the LDP and the fishing industry often claiming that anti-whaling countries are condemning a culture and tradition they know little about.

In one exchange at the 2001 IWC conference, a Japanese fisheries agency official, Masuyuki Komatsu, said Westerners were "too sentimental" about whales and called minke whales the "cockroaches of the sea" because they eat other fish stocks. Tokyo has continued to challenge the 1986 moratorium by engaging in what it controversially calls "scientific whaling", designed to monitor fish stocks and migration patterns, despite opposition from its allies and environmental groups.

Junko Sakurai, the spokeswoman on whaling for Greenpeace Japan, said yesterday: "A new lobby group within the LDP has been working hard since late last year to make whale meat more commercially available. They have set up a working group to achieve this aim".

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