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Scientists slam IWC's proposal to end global whaling ban

Scientists and environmental groups have slammed the International Whaling Commission's plan to end a global ban on commercial whaling, as the Commission convened behind closed doors in Morocco on Monday.


AFP - The International Whaling Commission withdrew Monday behind closed doors within minutes of kicking off a tense meeting that could end a global ban on commercial whaling.

Accredited green groups were fuming at what they called the unprecedented lockdown.

"The decision to exclude the civil society and media is a scandal," said Wendy Elliott of WWF International.

The 88-nation body is debating a proposal, put forward by the IWC's chairmen, that seeks to break a 24-year deadlock and reduce the number of animals killed.

Japan, Norway and Iceland have flouted the 1986 moratorium, harvesting more than 1,500 of the marine mammals in the 2008-2009 season alone.

Tokyo has said it is keen to find a middle ground, but drew a line.

"In these negotiations, it is impossible for Japan to accept zero catches as the final outcome," Japan's deputy agriculture minister Yasue Funayama told journalists here.

The draft deal tables reduced annual catch numbers through 2020 for four species of whales as a baseline for negotiations, in the hope of coaxing the renegades back into the IWC fold.

Under the scheme, total allowable kills in each of the first five years would be just over 90 percent of the 2008-2009 figure, dropping further from 2015 to 2020.

Led by Germany and Britain, European countries have welcomed Japan's apparent willingness to trim its kill quotas, but said that is not enough.

"Japan has signalled that they are ready to reduce their catch by about 50 percent over 10 years," said Gert Lindermanm, leader of the German delegation.

"But the numbers should lay out the path so that step by step commercial whaling should be finished."

The proposed deal would require the gradual reduction of kill quotas over a 10-year period, but says nothing about what happens after that.

It also would allow hunting in the Southern Ocean whale sanctuary, which many EU states, along with Australia, have suggested is a deal breaker.

"The IWC proposal would not curb international trade in whale products, stop hunting in sanctuaries, or eliminate scientific hunting," said Jean-Louis Borloo, France's super-minister for sustainable development, taking aim squarely at Japan.

The IWC's own scientific committee, meanwhile, said in a report issued Monday that most of the catch quotas in the proposal are not sustainable.

Using a formula based on estimates of population levels, scientists calculated that the proposed catches were far too high for the North Pacific Bryde's whales, and double tolerable limits for North Atlantic fin whales and eastern North Atlantic minke whales.

Only for the central North Atlantic minke whales were the tabled suggestions well under conservation-safe limits, they found.

"Science has been sidelined during the negotiations," said Scott Baker, a marine biologist at Oregon State University and a committee member since 1994.

Like Japan's self-arrogated quotas for so-called "scientific research", the new figures "don't correspond to a scientific reality," said Jean Benoit Charrassin, a researcher at France's Museum of Natural History and a long-standing IWC scientist.

The proposal pays lip service to advice from the Scientific Committee, but the IWC has yet to adopt methods its experts laid out in 1994 -- in a so-called Revised Management Procedure, or RMP -- on how to calculate safe limits and verify they are respected, he said.

Justin Cooke, a committee member from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), described the plan as a "sham."

"It gives the impression that catch limits would be based on the RMP, but in fact they are arbitrary results of negotiation."

The scientific report also underscores the problem of so-called "by-catch", the ostensibly accidental killing of whales in fishing nets.

From 1994 to 2006, Japan and South Korea each caught more than 1,000 minke whales in their coastal waters this way, according to government statistics.

DNA analysis suggests that the real number of whales killed in the same waters by by-catch is likely twice as high.

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