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Proposal to legalize limited commercial whaling unveiled

[JURIST] The International Whaling Commission (IWC) [official website] unveiled a draft proposal [text, PDF; press release, PDF] Thursday that would make limited commercial whaling legal for the first time in 25 years. The proposal reflects a compromise for the countries that engage in whaling despite international law against it. Japan, Norway, and Iceland would be allowed to continue under strict quotas meant to reduce whaling to sustainable levels over time. Japan, which defends its illegal whaling by claiming an exemption for scientific purposes, will have its self-imposed quota for minke whales reduced [AP report] from 935 to 400 for the 2010 season and down to 200 by 2015. The hunting of humpback whales in the Southern Hemisphere is still prohibited, but the proposal allows for a limited number in the North Atlantic. The proposal addresses the fact that the overall ban on whaling has been ineffective:

The status quo is not an option for an effective multilateral organisation. To overcome the present impasse, the IWC has in recent years recognised the need to create a non-confrontational environment within which issues of fundamental difference amongst members can be discussed with a view to their resolution. Reconciliation of differences in views about whales and whaling will strengthen actions related to the common goal of maintaining healthy whale populations and maximizing the likelihood of the recovery of depleted populations.

Despite this goal, the IWC has received criticism [press release] from the anti-whaling group Greenpeace [official website]. The IWC will discuss the proposal during its June meeting in Morocco.

Whaling [Greenpeace backgrounder] is regulated by the 1946 Whaling Convention [text, PDF], and commercial whaling was outright banned in 1986 by the IWC. The Japanese whalers defend [TIME report] their whaling as scientific research because they collect data on the whale's age, diet, and birthing rate, before packaging and selling the meat. The Japanese mostly hunt for minke and finback whales, but have begun to hunt humpback whales, which have reached sustainable levels since being placed on the endangered species list in 1963. Earlier this month, Japanese authorities indicted [JURIST report] New Zealand anti-whaling activist, Pete Bethune, with five criminal charges in connection with boarding a Japanese whaling vessel as part of an anti-whaling protest in the antarctic seas.

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