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Russia abruptly halts beluga hunt, trade

A single shipment of 13 metric tons of beluga whale meat arrived Monday in Hakodate, Japan, before trade was halted.  

September 16, 1999
Web posted at: 12:53 p.m. EDT (1653 GMT)


The Russian government halted the first-ever international commercial trade of beluga whale meat Wednesday, putting a stop to the export of 200 metric tons of meat and blubber to Japan, said the International Fund for Animal Welfare from its Moscow office.

Just 10 days after worldwide attention was focused on the highly criticized deal, the government of the Russian Federation said it was ending the commercial hunt of beluga whales in Russia's Sea of Okhotsk because it is not sustainable and threatens Russia's commitment to environmental protection. A single shipment of 13 metric tons of beluga whale meat arrived Monday in Hakodate, Japan, before trade was halted.

The resolution was formalized following a high-level Russian cabinet meeting Wednesday on the issue, involving Vladmir Scherback, deputy chair of the Government of the Russian Federation; Amerkhan Amerkhanov, chair of the Russian authorities for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora; Valentin Ilushenko, Russian commissioner of the International Whaling Commission; representatives from the State Fishery Committee of the Russian Federation and the Russian Federation's State Committee on the Northern Territories; and prominent Russian marine mammal scientists.

Since the hunt began less than two weeks ago, international environmental groups including the International Fund for Animal Welfare, Greenpeace, The World Wide Fund For Nature and Russia's Marine Mammals Council, have been campaigning for it to be halted. Key elected officials in the United States spearheaded by Congressman William Delahunt of Massachusetts, also joined the initiative.

Environmentalists said the commercial hunt of beluga whales set a dangerous precedent for the commercial hunting of all small whales and dolphins.

"We are stunned and thrilled. Swift and strong response from environmental groups and particularly the U.S. government made a huge difference here," said Karen Steuer IFAW director of Commercial Trade and Exploitation.

"This is a great success for the Russian government and its environmental policies. The western view of Russia at the moment is based on Russia's political difficulties. It is important for the Russian federation to show the rest of the world that they can act swiftly when need be and that they can do the right thing environmentally," Steuer said.

"Japan's reopening of the international trade in whale meat would have set a dangerous precedent for a trade that is not sustainable and that threatens whale populations worldwide. Wednesday's decision by the Russian Government shows that Russians also see commercial whaling for what it is an outmoded practice with no place in modern society," Steuer added.

Japan remains the leading proponent of commercial whale hunting and is the only country that still conducts 'scientific' whaling. It hunts Southern Hemisphere and North Pacific minke whales, killing up to 540 animals each year.

Copyright 1999, Environmental News Network, All Rights Reserved

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The Whale Club
Year of the Ocean
International Whaling Commission
World Wide Fund for Nature
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