Leading article: The moratorium on whaling must stay

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In the month when the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, meeting in Doha, failed to take action to protect the bluefin tuna from extinction, it is even more depressing to learn that the International Whaling Commission is now seriously considering plans to end the moratorium on commercial whaling.

Of course the Commission plans – being hatched by committees meeting behind closed doors reading for the next meeting in Morocco in June – are not being presented as a step back in the protection of arguably the world's most majestic mammals. Perish the thought. The idea, according to its proponents, is to produce a new compromise agreement under which whaling can take place under controlled circumstances and tight quotas. In place of the old regular rows between those in favour of the ban and the three countries – Japan, Norway and Iceland – who simply ignored it, there would now be an agreement to keep everyone happy. The whalers will be allowed to go about their trade officially sanctioned, but their catches will be limited, supervised and DNA testing of whale meat will be introduced to test its origin. But there will be commercial whaling for the first time since the moratorium was introduced in 1986. The word "moratorium" will be kept but the principle will be broken and the practice allowed.

We all know the reasons. It is the same whether you are talking about selling ivory stocks, allowing the trade in rare animals or stopping the fishing of bluefin tunas. There are powerful vested interests involved, particular national industries, local economies and ethnic particularities. To understand political motivations, however, is not to accept them. The simple reality of the seas is that stocks can be rapidly depleted to a point where the breeding grounds cannot recover and whole species can be made extinct.

The moratorium on commercial whaling was the first great international agreement to cope with a threatened catastrophe in the oceans by imposing a near-total ban on commercial exploitation of this endangered mammal. Its reversal now would be a tragedy.

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