WASHINGTON, Mar. 2 (AFP) – Key players on whaling huddled behind closed doors in Florida in an uncertain bid to find common ground on an issue that has bitterly divided Australia and Japan.
Negotiators opened talks at a resort hotel in Saint Pete Beach, near Saint Petersburg on Florida's Gulf coast, participants said. Media were not allowed into the talks in the hopes of encouraging a more open dialogue.
|File photo shows Japanese fishermen slaughtering a 10m-long bottlenose whale at Wada port in Minami-Boso, Chiba prefecture, east of Tokyo. AFP file photo|
The delegates will review through Thursday a proposal by Cristian Maquieira, chairman of the 88-nation International Whaling Commission (IWC), that aims to work toward a grand compromise bringing aboard all sides on the debate.
His proposal would allow Japan, Norway and Iceland to hunt openly despite a 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling, but put their programs under strict IWC monitoring and aim for sharp reductions in their catch over 10 years.
But Maquieira, a Chilean diplomat, was unable to attend the opening session to promote his idea, due to a devastating earthquake in his country that has shut down the main airport in Santiago, participants said.
His draft deal has been met by swift counter-proposals by Japan and Australia. Japan kills hundreds of whales each year in the Antarctic Ocean, enraging animal lovers in Australia and New Zealand.
Australian Environment Minister Peter Garrett has said the IWC proposal falls well short of his government's bottom line. Canberra has threatened legal action against Tokyo unless it sets a time frame to end its Antarctic hunts.
In Tokyo on Tuesday, Japan's fisheries minister, Hirotaka Akamatsu, said his side would be "patient" in negotiations but that his goal was the resumption of commercial whaling.
Japan uses a loophole in the 1986 moratorium that allows "lethal research" on whales. But Japan argues that whaling is part of its culture and makes no secret that the meat winds up on dinner plates.
Norway and Iceland defy the moratorium entirely by informing the IWC that they object to the 1986 decision. The compromise proposal would ban the practice, insisting that all nations' whaling come under the IWC's authority.
The IWC meeting will on Thursday or Friday also review a proposal by Denmark to allow indigenous people in Greenland to kill a limited number of humpback whales.
The proposal has met a mixed reception, although most nations accept in principle the whaling rights of indigenous peoples.
The Florida meeting cannot alter the 1986 moratorium but can make recommendations to the next full meeting of the IWC, to be held in June in the Moroccan fishing port of Agadir.
Environmentalists have been scathing over the IWC compromise proposal, saying it would effectively undo the 1986 moratorium that is credited with restoring stocks of the giant mammals.
"This would reward Japan for their abhorrent behavior by legitimizing commercial whaling in an international whale sanctuary," Phil Kline, an oceans campaigner with Greenpeace USA, said ahead of the meeting.
Australia and New Zealand have established what they call a Southern Ocean whale sanctuary, which Japan does not recognize.
The compromise proposal does not address the issue but would set up a separate no-kill sanctuary in the Southern Atlantic, where key powers Brazil and South Africa are outspoken opponents of whaling.
All sides are closely watching the position in Florida of the United States.
President Barack Obama's administration has stated it opposes all commercial whaling but has not taken a public stance on the IWC proposal.