Japan Says It Can Compromise On Whale Catch Quota

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MARI YAMAGUCHI,
Associated Press Writer

TOKYO—Japan is willing to reduce its whale catch quota for the country's annual research hunts if it can resume commercial whaling along its coasts, a fisheries official said.

Japan has been pushing for an end to the ban on such commercial hunts imposed by the International Whaling Commission in 1986.

Japan each year hunts hundreds of mostly minke whales — which are not an endangered species — under a research program, an allowed exception to the IWC moratorium. Excess meat is sold for consumption, leading critics to call the program a mere cover for commercial hunts.

"A resumption of commercial whaling has been our long-cherished hope," Fisheries Agency official Toshinori Uoya said Wednesday. "In order to achieve that goal, we are ready to compromise."

Japan is hoping to see its position reflected in a new proposal by the IWC chairman, to be published later Thursday ahead of the body's annual assembly in June, said Uoya, who attended a closed-door IWC meeting last week in Washington with representatives of 11 other countries, including Japan, the U.S. and Australia.

Kyodo News agency reported Tuesday that at the meeting Japan proposed cutting its catch quota of minke whales for its Antarctic hunts to 440 from the current 935. The Japanese delegation also eased its opposition to establishing a whale sanctuary in the South Atlantic, Kyodo said, citing unidentified sources.

Such a cut, however, may not have a major impact on Japan. Disruption by conservation activists has seen its annual catch fall to around 500 whales. Sea Shepherd, a U.S.-based conservation group, often trails the whaling boats and tries to disrupt the hunt, leading to violent confrontations.

In addition to the Antarctic hunts, Japan culls 220 minke whales along the country's coasts, also for research, Uoya said.

In February, the IWC chairman proposed lifting the ban on commercial hunts while restricting scientific whaling — a change intended to cut the overall number of whales killed worldwide and break the long-standing impasse between whaling countries and their opponents — but did not set numeric targets. The three main whaling nations — Japan, Norway and Iceland — annually kill about 3,000 whales, 10 times as many as in 1993.

As well as angering conservationists, Japan's research whaling program has caused diplomatic tensions, and many anti-whaling nations oppose the IWC proposal.

Australia has threatened international legal action to stop the research hunts. It has now given Japan until November to end its Antarctic whaling or face action at the International Court of Justice.

Australia has proposes an end to whaling in the Antarctic Ocean within five years, and an eventual phasing out of all other whaling worldwide, except for aboriginal subsistence.

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