UK fisheries minister Elliot Morley today [Wednesday] raised concerns about an apparent breach of International Whaling Commission's (IWC) rules concerning the origin of whale meat on sale in some Japanese shops.

During a debate on quota allowances for aboriginal subsistence whaling, the Minister told the IWC that a UK environmental group had drawn his attention to some worrying labelling on whale products bought on a shopping trip in Nagasaki, Japan.

The Environmental Investigation Agency brought the two packages of whale products to the IWC's annual meeting in the Japanese whaling port of Shimonoseki and told Morley of their concerns.

The two packages of Minke Whale are labelled as having come from Greenland. Under IWC rules, some aboriginal subsistence whaling is permitted off the coast of Greenland. But it would be a breach of IWC rules to sell and export products from these catches.

If the meat has not been exported from Greenland, it would mean that the packages were mislabelled, throwing into doubt the ability of Japan to properly police any potential Revised Management Scheme (RMS) governing commercial whaling.

Morley told IWC members: "I have raised this issue with the IWC because I think it raises grave concerns both for the IWC and the Japanese people. I do not have any answers at the moment, this is something which needs further investigation, but clearly something is wrong here and we need to get to the bottom of it."

Commercial whaling is banned by an IWC moratorium but pro whaling nations want it lifted. The IWC has also been working towards a RMS that would set in place the rules and regulations governing commercial whaling should the moratorium ever be lifted. Anti whaling and pro whaling nations have yet to agree on the detail of a RMS.

Morley said: "The UK and like minded nations do not want to see a return to commercial whaling, but we have to be prepared for the fact that this could happen in the future if the IWC voted to overturn the moratorium. It is therefore vital that a robust RMS is put in place to protect whales from over exploitation.

"The packages I have shown to my IWC colleagues do appear to cast doubt on the ability of some nations to enforce the rules. Clear labelling of origin forms an essential part of this. It is essential to distinguish between imported and domestically produced meat. This confusion demonstrates the need to keep the moratorium in place."

Under IWC rules some aboriginal subsistence whaling is permitted where there are genuine nutritional and cultural needs as determined by the IWC, but the products of this whaling must be used exclusively by local people.