IWC chief says crucial talks could determine whaling's future

Denis BARNETT
A Minke whale breaches the surface near Boothbay Harbor, Maine

The incoming chairman of the bitterly-divided International Whaling Commission (IWC) said the latest meeting of the 89-member organization on Monday could determine its future as it debates a return to commercial whale hunting.

Speaking as pro- and anti-whaling nations gathered in Brazil for the week-long showdown, Joji Morishita said the meeting could help determine whether whaling nations Japan, Norway and Iceland saw a future within the organization's current framework.

"It depends on the how the discussion surrounding the future vision of this organization goes," Morishita told AFP in an interview.

"We need an international organization -- which might be IWC, which might not be IWC -- but that has to be there in order to manage whaling activities, because until the forseeable future whaling activities will be there, and as long as whaling activities are conducted by countries -- including subsistence and indigenous whaling activities -- you need international management measures."

Norway and Iceland are the only countries that allow commercial whaling, but remain inside the IWC as conscientious objectors.

Japan, while persistently arguing for a return to whale hunting, meanwhile exploits a loophole in the moratorium to conduct "scientific whaling," taking 333 Minke whales this year.

Hours before nations were to debate Japan's proposal to end the 32-year moratorium -- in place since 1986 -- Morishita said he wanted to see "a paradigm shift" in how the IWC debates its problems if it is to remain relevant.

"The problem is oftentimes one side denies the other and if we can change the paradigm to mutual respect from mutual denial, I think the IWC should still have a place to function or a role to play."

Host country Brazil and Japan are proposing two diametrically opposed visions of the future of the organization.

Japan is presenting a "Way Forward" document which would create a "Sustainable Whaling Committee" for nations wishing to allow their nationals to hunt healthy whale populations for commercial purposes, which anti-whaling members like the European Union, Australia and New Zealand are determined to block.

Brazil is instead trying to rally anti-whaling nations behind a "Florianopolis Declaration," which insists that commercial whaling is no longer a necessary economic activity and would allow the recovery of all whale populations to pre-industrial whaling levels.

"Our challenge at this meeting is whether we can bridge the two different ideas or find a situation where we can agree to disagree so that we can see the future rather than just fighting each other."

Morishita, Japan's IWC commissioner and a veteran of fractious IWC meetings as a pro-whaling advocate, said things had to change.

The twin ideals of conservation and managed commercial whaling were "always fighting each other."

At past IWC meetings "the mutual denial was sort of the norm" causing "very difficult conflict and controversy," said Morishita, who also chairs the scientific committee of the North Pacific Fisheries Commission.

"There have been several attempts at peacemaking; throughout the process I guess the discussion becomes more polite or organized.

"However, the basic difference between the two camps still remains, and all these peacemaking attempts have failed, unfortunately."