International Whaling Commission leader is 'optimistic' for compromise at June meeting
WASHINGTON — The head of the International Whaling Commission on Thursday expressed optimism that nations gathering in Morocco next month can settle a long-running dispute over the hunting of whales.
But a senior U.S. official signaled difficult negotiations ahead over a contentious IWC proposal that would effectively allow commercial whaling for the first time in 25 years, though under strict quotas set by the commission.
The proposal is an attempt to solve a stalemate between pro- and anti-whaling countries that has lasted since a 1986 ban on commercial whaling.
Japan, Norway and Iceland, which harpoon around 2,000 whales annually, argue that many species are abundant enough to continue hunting them. They are backed by around half the IWC's 88 member nations.
The United States, Australia and the European Union, among others, want whaling to stop or at least be reduced.
Monica Medina, the U.S. commissioner to the IWC, told reporters at a briefing that the Obama administration cannot accept the commission's current proposal, which allows the hunting of too many whales. But Washington is willing to continue talks to see if a stronger accord to protect whales can be settled at the IWC meeting in Morocco, she said.
Medina, who's also a principal deputy undersecretary in the Commerce Department, said: "The IWC is fundamentally broken and must be fixed." Negotiators recognize that whaling continues despite a moratorium.
"The idea would be to cap that whaling and to get it under the IWC's control so that it can be monitored," she said.
The chairman of the IWC, Cristian Maquieira, said at the briefing a successful deal next month could bring international whaling under IWC control -- something that's not happening now.
"The negotiations will be very, very complicated and very, I suspect, intense, but I do look forward to a positive outcome," Maquieira said. "I'm optimistic that we will arrive at some understanding."
He was careful to note that the IWC proposal is only meant to spur negotiations -- not to be a final agreement. "Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed," Maquieira said.
The IWC proposal seeks a compromise by allowing whaling nations to hunt without specifying whether it is for commercial or other purposes -- but in lower numbers than they do now.
Environmental groups say the proposal could lead to an eventual return to the past large-scale whaling that devastated many species.
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Top photo: A man wears a sticker stating the message of a demonstration to protest the IWC proposal to remove a moratorium on commercial whaling held May 23 in Santa Monica. Credit: John W. Adkisson / Los Angeles Times
Bottom photo: Japanese research whaling ship the Nisshin Maru arrives in the Tokyo port on April 12, her hull stained by red marks left during protests by environmental advocacy group Sea Shepherd, which pursued Nisshin Maru in Antarctic waters. Credit: Jiji Press / AFP/Getty Images