Can there ever be a case for the resumption of commercial whaling? The ban introduced a quarter of a century ago became a symbol of a successful fight against the ruthless exploitation of marine life.

Saving the whale was a neat label to attach to environmentalists but it also meant something.

The 1982 deal to impose a moratorium on commercial whaling, implemented in 1986, represented the best in international co-operation.

Now there is the possibility that commercial whaling will be reintroduced.

For years Japan and the other whaling nations have been pushing at the International Whaling Commission and doing deals with smaller countries in an effort to lift the ban.

It appears they may be succeeding and that the ban will be lifted later this year for a 10-year period.

Does it matter? The ban on commercial whaling did not mean no whales were killed. Japan used the loophole of scientific research for its annual slaughter in the Antarctic. Iceland and Norway simply opposed the ban and carried on whaling.

Some 35,000 whales have been killed during the ban.

Some say a resumption of commercial whaling, with the right controls in place, could produce a better outcome. Japan is prepared to offer a reduction in its annual kill to secure a deal.

Charles Clover, our environment columnist, argues today that the ban has not worked and it would be better to replace it with controlled commercial whaling, operated on sound scientific principles to ensure there was no possibility of species being hunted to extinction.

Yet a lifting of the ban would be risky. The International Fund for Animal Welfare warns that it would open the floodgates. The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society says the whaling nations will use a 10-year lifting of the ban to ratchet up hunting permanently.

The government