- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 26, 2007

The U.S. is locked in a power struggle with Japan over control of the International Whaling Commission, with the winner to decide whether whales can be legally hunted for profit.

Japan, the world’s biggest consumer of whale meat, is pushing to end the IWC’s 21-year-old commercial whaling ban, and has killed thousands of whales in recent years using a “scientific loophole” that allows the meat to be sold.

“Japan is very serious about overturning the moratorium and a return to commercial whaling,” said Karen Sack, whaling project leader for Greenpeace USA, who accused the Japanese of recruiting pro-whaling countries to the IWC.

Ms. Sack said that “whaling doesn’t belong in the 21st century” and that Greenpeace began running television advertisements yesterday condemning whaling to coincide with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s U.S. visit.

President Bush will host Mr. Abe for a White House dinner tonight and a meeting at Camp David tomorrow. A White House spokeswoman said she couldn’t comment on whether the two leaders will discuss whaling.

But on Capitol Hill, opposition to Japan’s quest to resume commercial whaling has been less muted. Fifty-six members of Congress last month signed a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez expressing “serious concern with the erosion of U.S. influence and leadership within the International Whaling Commission,” and asked the Bush administration to “re-establish [the U.S.] as a leader on whale conservation within the commission and the broader international community.”

The letter was initiated by Rep. Nick J. Rahall II, West Virginia Democrat and chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee. Three Republicans — Reps. Frank A. LoBiondo and Christopher H. Smith of New Jersey, and Rep. Christopher Shays of Connecticut — joined 53 Democrats in signing the document.

U.S. influence within the 73-nation whaling commission has been unequaled for the past two decades, but at its annual meeting last year a Japanese-backed proposal to end the ban was approved 33-32. Although a three-quarters majority of members was required to lift the ban, it was the closest the pro-whaling movement has come to overturning the moratorium in more than two decades.

New Zealand Conservation Minister Chris Carter said at the time that the vote count was the “most serious defeat the conservation cause has ever suffered at the IWC.” He added it was a “significant diplomatic victory for Japan.”

Japan says whale populations have significantly increased in recent years and that the moratorium is no longer necessary.

Pro-whaling countries also say lifting the ban is a way to protect fish stocks from whales, who consume large amounts of fish.

Japan has promised that any future whaling would be done on a much smaller scale than in the past.

The Japanese Embassy did not respond to a request for comments yesterday.

Anti-whaling advocates say that while it’s impossible to accurately estimate the number of whales worldwide, whale populations are nowhere close to levels where commercial hunting should be allowed.

Despite the growing clout of Japan and other pro-whaling countries such as Norway and Iceland within the commission, it’s unlikely they will have enough support to overturn the ban when the commission meets next month in Anchorage, Alaska, U.S. officials say.

“The U.S. is still the one that people look at for direction and advice within the commission,” said a member of the commission’s U.S. delegation, which is expected to exceed 25 delegates.

“The U.S. is still the big whale in the room.”

But with the commission almost evenly split on the question of banning commercial whaling, Japan is working hard to woo fellow members to its side of the debate.

About three to five countries have been joining the commission in recent years. Many of these countries are siding with pro-whaling contingent, leading to accusations that Japan is recruiting new pro-whaling members in exchange for development grants or other financial assistance.

“Japan is definitely recruiting new members and providing development assistance to many,” Ms. Sack said.

Japan invited commission members to a meeting in Tokyo earlier this year to reaffirm its commitment to lifting the ban. The meeting was boycotted by the U.S. and other countries against commercial whaling.

“If Japan wants to discuss IWC issues, it should so do within the IWC — not on its own,” the U.S. delegation member said.

In order to protect dwindling whale populations, the commission in 1982 declared a five-year ban on commercial whaling to begin in 1986. The moratorium since has been extended to the present.

Norway, which did not agree to the moratorium, is the only nation allowed to legally hunt whales commercially.

The commission also allows for a certain number of whales to be harvested by aboriginal peoples in Arctic regions, and for scientific research purposes.

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