By Geoffrey Varley of AFP
Monaco, Oct 21 AFP – Ireland today put forward compromise proposals intended to safeguard endangered species of whales which would permit limited whaling in coastal areas.
Addressing the 49th annual meeting in Monaco of the International Whaling Commission (IWC), Irish whaling commissioner Michael Canny said the proposal was also intended to save the IWC from breakup, endangered by flouting of its decisions by whaling nations Japan and Norway.
Canny said Ireland’s proposal was intended "to ensure no population of whales will be endangered" and that Dublin was seeking consensus and submitting some ideas.
Canny, who is vice-president of the IWC, said that the organisation’s revised management scheme (RMS), intended to conserve stocks, should be adopted.
He said that quotas should be restricted to coastal areas and to countries already whaling, a reference to Japan and Norway.
The meat should be kept for local consumption only.
Canny said the proposal amounted to de facto creation of a world-wide whale sanctuary outside the coastal zones and should be accompanied by a ban on "scientific" whaling, a disguised form of commercial hunting as practised by Japan.
The Irish commissioner also said "whale watching" tourism should be regulated.
Norway’s delegate, K Bryn, welcomed the proposals and reaction by Japan’s delegate K Shima, who said Tokyo was willing to talk about them, was more mitigated, but they were criticised by anti-whaler New Zealand.
Chairman Peter Bridgewater of Australia asked Canny to set up a dialogue group on his proposal and to report back.
Ecologists fear that moves at the IWC to approve whaling in territorial waters and by tribal groups will lead to a sharp increase in hunting worldwide.
Greenpeace, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) said in a statement to the IWC’s 49th annual meeting in Monaco that already "whaling is growing rapidly and is out of the IWC’s control. "
The statement added: "Unless firm action is taken to bring the situation under control, unregulated whaling looks set to increase even further. "
The environmental organisations have urged establishment of "a global ocean sanctuary" but are contesting Ireland’s proposal as likely to encourage a surge in uncontrolled whaling.
The US government is meanwhile backing a campaign to permit the Makah tribe in north-west Washington State to resume whale hunting for "cultural" reasons after a 70-year break.
The Makah are seeking authorisation to take five grey whales a year provided the meat is not sold and argue the species is not under threat in the north-west Pacific.
Ecologists say the US proposal is deliberately misleading. It has encountered opposition within Congress where 40 representatives warned the move would encourage illegal whale-hunting and objected to what they see as abandonment of the traditional US stance of protecting whales.
A Makah tribal spokesman, Dave Sones, tried to explain the cultural and historical significance of hunting saying it was an "honour to the species we hunt" and that there was "long and documented respect" for the grey whale in Makah culture.
Ireland, which is to chair the commission for the next three years, considers the number of whales being killed as a "major problem" and hopes that allowing limited hunting will end abuse in the guise of hunting for "scientific" purposes, a concealed form of commercial whaling.
Japan in particular has been selling whale meat, earning 3.5 billion yen (about $NZ40 million) in the 1996/97 season, even though it says its whaling activities are for "research".
Norway has always rejected the moratorium, saying that stocks of minke whales are sufficient to permit what Oslo says is limited culling.
For the 1997 season Norway set itself a quota of 580 whales, a sharp increase on 1996, but bad weather limited the catch to 503.
The Irish proposal did not specify whether the coastal water limit would be restricted to 12-mile territorial limits or 200-mile economic zones.
Ireland’s Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Elliot Morley said the Irish proposal would close a legal loophole under which whales were killed for "scientific purposes" while their meat found its way on to Norwegian and Japanese dining tables.
Norway has never signed on to the whaling moratorium of 1986 so it continues to hunt freely while Japan does the same, openly violating the Antarctica sanctuary for whales established in 1994.
A total of 1,043 whales have been slaughtered so far this year compared with 383 in 1992. All this whaling is legal under current arrangements.
Canny said recently that Ireland did not want to legalise whaling but to regulate it.
"We are suggesting a very strict management scheme, including satellite tracking, DNA tracing of meat samples and a total ban on international trade in whale meat," he said.
The 33-member IWC has no powers to impose any whaling ban. There has to be a consensus.
AFP sn 22/10/97 07-38NZ