Japan’s pro-whaling vote fails again

Japan fell short again on Saturday in efforts to gain majority support for its campaign to loosen international anti-whaling regulations.

Japan, which has obeyed a 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling but uses a loophole to hunt minke whales for scientific research, proposed that the International Whaling Commission (IWC) allow Japanese coastal communities to whale near shore.

Passage of the measure would have required 75 percent of the 70-nation body and was not expected. Japan, however, had sought a “moral victory” from a simple majority, which would have been the first time in two decades a whaling quota gained more than 50 percent support in the IWC, but it fell one vote short.

The defeat comes on the heels of crushing setbacks Japan suffered in two votes on Friday.

A simple majority would have been “big news,” Japan’s assistant commissioner, Joji Morishita, said before the vote. Afterward he lauded what he saw as a “50-50” result.

“It’s not an honest majority,” countered Kitty Block, a lawyer with Humane Society International.

“It’s not moral how they brought the simply majority,” she said, referring to claims Japan uses foreign aid to persuade Pacific, Caribbean and African states to back its pro-whaling stance — a charge Japan denies and one sometimes also applied to anti-whaling countries like Australia and New Zealand.

Japan had hoped at this year’s June 16-20 IWC annual meeting in the Caribbean country of St Kitts and Nevis to have secured a majority for the first time since the ban on commercial whaling was imposed two decades ago.

The third defeat on Saturday was likely to increase its frustration with the agency, which is credited with saving the great whales from being hunted into extinction.

Furious Debate

Earlier on Saturday, Akira Nakamae, a senior Japanese Fisheries Agency official, said the IWC had become “dysfunctional” because of the unbridgeable divide between the two sides and needed to be “normalized.”

Normalization refers to Japan’s desire to return the commission to its original purpose when it was set up in 1946, to regulate the hunting of whales.

Nakamae proposed holding a gathering of countries in favor of the sustainable harvesting of whales before the IWC’s next annual meeting in 2007, and triggered a furious debate.

“The attitude that because our forefathers killed whales we should emulate them must be set aside,” said New Zealand Minister of Conservation Chris Carter.

“We don’t live in the past, we live in the present, and we are making decisions that affect our future.”

Anti-whaling nations acknowledged that the IWC was not working properly, and that whales continued to die.

Japan’s scientific whaling fleet brought back 850 minkes last season and 10 fin whales. Iceland also conducts scientific whaling while Norway, the only nation to defy the ban, has set its hunters a quota this year of 1,052 minke whales, a small species whose meat is eaten as steaks.

“More whales have been killed since the moratorium in the guise of science than in the 40 years before,” Brazilian IWC commissioner Maria Teresa Mesquita Pessoa told Reuters.

Supporters of Japan, especially small developing countries, insisted on their right to harvest natural resources, and rejected attempts by rich anti-whaling countries to change their minds.

“Cultural imperialism must be resisted forcefully at every turn whenever it tries to raise its ugly head,” said Joanne Massiah, assistant IWC commissioner for Antigua and Barbuda.