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Japan suffers whaling blow

Norway and Japan are the only member nations that have functioning whale industries
Norway and Japan are the only member nations that have functioning whale industries  

Staff and wires

SHIMONOSEKI, Japan -- A furious Iceland stormed out of the annual world whaling summit while fellow pro-whaler Japan suffered a blow when the commission voted against its bid to boost its catch.

The setbacks underlined deepening divisions in the 56-year-old whaling authority as nations eager to whale and those wanting to protect the huge marine mammals jostle for control over the International Whaling Commission (IWC).

The conflict between the factions came to a head on Tuesday in the once bustling home port of Japan's whaling fleet over the issue of renewing Iceland's membership.

Dealing a serious blow to pro-whalers, Iceland walked out of the annual summit one day after its bid full membership was rejected, saying the IWC had been hijacked by anti-whaling nations.

"This has gone too far," Stefan Asmundsson, head of Iceland's IWC delegation, told reporters after Iceland's delegates walked out to scattered applause from the floor.

"They have gone against our rights."

Whale sanctuaries

Japan's campaign to end the moratorium on whaling will continue this week when it hosts the International Whaling Commission meeting. CNN's Gary Strieker reports

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Japan's bid to take 50 minke whales in nearby offshore waters was also rejected on the second day of the five-day annual meeting.

But in a widely-expected defeat for anti-whaling groups, proposals to create two new whale sanctuaries in the southern hemisphere fell through, failing to collect the three-quarters vote needed for passage.

Both proposals, one for the South Pacific and one for the South Atlantic, have been voted down in past annual meetings.

"There is no scientific basis for whale sanctuaries," said Japanese delegation head Minoru Morimoto.

Japan and other pro-whaling nations say sanctuaries are unnecessary because whales are already protected by a 1986 whaling moratorium.

Commercial whaling was banned 15 years ago amid concerns whale numbers in the world were falling below environmentally sustainable levels. Asia
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Japan and Norway are now the only member nations that have functioning whaling industries, killing about 1,000 whales each year.

Norway has objected to the moratorium and ignores it, while Japan claims the right to kill whales for scientific research, although whale meat from its hunts is widely sold in Japanese shops and restaurants.

Australia and New Zealand, the most fervent proponents of sanctuaries, say populations of some whale species are still dangerously low and sanctuaries are vital to their survival.

'Illegal act'

Monday's rejection of Iceland's attempt to gain voting rights in the IWC was a big defeat for Norway and host Japan.

"We can't sit here and appear to be a party to this illegal act," said Asmundsson, repeating his charge that the United States, a leader of the anti-whaling camp and the country responsible for receiving membership applications, had treated Iceland unfairly.

Like Japan, Iceland believes that abundant whale species are consuming its fish stocks and should be hunted within limits.

But veteran whalers who recall the days before the moratorium, say they routinely exceeded quotas and concealed excess kills from government inspectors and international observers.

Iceland reapplied for membership last year after walking out a decade ago in disgust at the IWC's anti-whaling stance, but it refused to agree to the 1986 commercial whaling moratorium.

An acrimonious vote resulted in its admission only as a non-voting observer.

'Should be hunted'

Japan had hoped to gain a simple majority in the IWC to give momentum to its push to overturn the commercial whaling moratorium and allow it to expand its research whaling program, begun in 1987.

Tokyo had proposed to take 150 minkes, 50 more than last season. Twenty members voted in favor, 21 against and three abstained. A three-quarters majority of the 45 voting members would have been needed to approve the plan.

Commercial whaling is a heated issue
Commercial whaling is a heated issue  

"It was better than last year, but not as good as we expected," Masayuki Komatsu, a senior Japanese fisheries official, told reporters. "I am disappointed.

Japan, like fellow whaler Norway, believes that minkes are no longer endangered and can be hunted commercially within limits.

It wants to increase sharply the number of whales killed in the northern Pacific and add to its scientific hunting the 15-metre (50-foot) sei whale, which activists say is endangered.

Japan wants to take 50 sei whales, 50 Bryde's whales and 10 sperm whales besides the 400 minkes it hunts around Antarctica each year.

--CNN's Gary Strieker contributed to this report.




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