Hopes fade of compromise over whaling

Anti-whaling protesters outside the talks in Agadir Anti-whaling protesters have made their voices heard outside the talks

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Prospects of a compromise deal between whaling countries and their opponents appear to be receding.

Two days of private talks at the International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting here yielded little progress.

Delegates told BBC News there were even suggestions that the "peace talks" should be extended into a third year.

The controversial compromise package would cut Japan's Antarctic hunt and put existing whaling programmes under international oversight.

But many see it as legitimising the whaling operations of Iceland, Japan and Norway.

Commercial whaling has been banned since 1986. But Iceland and Norway have lodged official objections to that decision and continue to hunt commercially, while Japan uses a regulation permitting hunting for scientific research.

Inching away

The "peace process" began formally two years ago at the IWC meeting in Santiago.

Initially it was supposed to last for one year. But to no-one's surprise, that proved too tight a timescale - hence the decision for a year's extension, and consensus agreement to strive for an outcome here.

Guide to whales (BBC)

Over the past year, the two blocs appeared to be inching closer.

But delegates from whaling countries and their opponents said that since arriving here, positions had if anything hardened.

With little progress in the private talks, the process for this meeting is now in some turmoil.

Delegates were unsure whether a second draft of the proposal, due out on Tuesday evening, would emerge at all.

"Without that, what are we to discuss?" wondered one European negotiator.

Japan is understood to be frustrated by demands that it must pledge to eliminate its annual hunt in the Antarctic.

The draft proposal would see its annual self-awarded quota of 935 minke whales cut initially to 400, then to 200 in five years' time.

Anti-whaling countries say those numbers are too high, but Japan is baulking at deeper cuts.

Iceland is vehemently opposed to the mooted ban on international trade in whalemeat because it believes there might be a viable export market; while Norway's position is that its hunt is sustainable, so why should it stop?

Hearing voices

In the anti-whaling camp, some governments have been stung by accusations that by contemplating a deal, they were preparing to "sell out" the global whaling moratorium.

Receiving a petition against lifting the moratorium signed by more than a million people on Tuesday, Australian environment minister Peter Garrett said the people of the world's voices against whaling needed to be heard.

THE LEGALITIES OF WHALING

Japanese fishermen with a 10m-long bottlenose whale at the Wada port
  • Objection - A country formally objects to the IWC moratorium, declaring itself exempt. Example: Norway
  • Scientific - A nation issues unilateral 'scientific permits'; any IWC member can do this. Example: Japan
  • Aboriginal - IWC grants permits to indigenous groups for subsistence food. Example: Alaskan Inupiat

"I certainly hear them today in front of the IWC meeting in Morocco," he said.

"In accepting this petition, I say that we too understand how important it is that this compromise proposal that's been floated, that would see the commercial whaling moratorium finish, does not succeed."

Abandonment of the compromise idea is one possible outcome of this meeting, which has three days left to run.

Some environment groups would applaud that, having been suspicious of the idea all along, while others would see it as a chance missed.

But talk of postponing a decision still further is likely to dismay everyone.

Opting for more negotiating time "would raise the question of the commission's credibility," said Remi Parmentier, senior policy adviser to the Pew Environment Group, which has been one of the organisations backing the exploration of compromise.

"It would also be very bad for whales, because it means another year of hunting outside IWC control by Iceland, Japan and Norway," he told BBC News.

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