CANBERRA, Australia—Australia rejected an International Whaling Commission proposal that would allow limited commercial whaling for the first time in 25 years, dismissing it Wednesday as a huge step back for whale conservation efforts.
There has been a ban on commercial whaling since 1986, but Japan, Norway and Iceland still catch whales under various exceptions sanctioned by the IWC, such as scientific research. In Japan, whale meat not used for research is sold as food, which critics including Australia contend is the real reason for the hunt.
Last week, the IWC put forth a proposal that would allowing whaling nations to hunt without specifying whether it is for commercial or other purposes — but in lower numbers than they do now. The proposal will be debated at the commission's meeting in Morocco in June.
On Wednesday, Environment Minister Peter Garrett said the proposal was inadequate, and instead called for a five-year phase-out of all whaling in the waters off Antarctica, and an immediate ban on scientific whaling permits.
"The proposal before us falls well short of any outcome that Australia could accept," Garrett said in a speech at The Australian National University. "We believe that should the chair's proposal be implemented without substantive change, it would set whale conservation back by decades."
Each year, Japan travels to the waters off Antarctica to hunt whales under its scientific program. Activists from the U.S.-based Sea Shepherd conservation group pursue the whalers, occasionally leading to violent clashes.
Australia has given Japan until November to end the Antarctic hunts or else face action before the International Court of Justice.