UK fisheries minister Elliot Morley said today [Tuesday] he had no sympathy with Iceland’s decision to walk out of the International Whaling Commission’s (IWC) annual meeting in Japan and hoped debate would speed up so that all the important issues still to be discussed could be aired.

Iceland’s delegation walked out of the meeting in protest at yesterday’s decision to reject their application to rejoining the IWC without signing up to the moratorium on commercial whaling.

In a statement to the IWC annual meeting in the Japanese whaling port of Shimonoseki, the Iceland delegation claimed the chairman, Bo Fernholm, was bound by the IWC Convention to recognise Iceland’s membership.

But Morley said: “The ball is in Iceland’s court. As I have said before, their application to rejoin is welcome – but not with a reservation to one of the key policies of the IWC.

“If they want to rejoin the IWC they should do so like everyone else – without a reservation on the moratorium – and then fight their cause from within. It is simply not acceptable to pick and choose like this, the moratorium on commercial whaling is a cornerstone to the IWC.”

Iceland was a member of the IWC until 1992.

Morley said he was frustrated by what appeared to be “an organised campaign” by pro whaling members to delay debate and progress on important issues still to be discussed by the IWC.

He said: “There were a lot of very lengthy speeches made by many of the pro whaling nations in the build up to, and after, Iceland’s statement and decision to walk out. Of course opinions have to be expressed, but the way it is being done is very tedious and appears to be intended to block progress and discussion on some other important issues. Whales are under threat from a number of environmental factors such as climate change, melting ice caps and chemical pollutants. All of these things need to be considered by the IWC and they are simply being pushed back.”

Japan’s application to hunt and kill 50 Minke whales off its coastal waters in order to support communities it claims depend on whaling for economic and dietary survival was turned down by 21 votes to 20, failing to achieve even a simple majority.

This followed concerns about the number of whales in this area, the commercial nature of the hunt, and confirmation by Japan that this quota would be in addition to the 50 Minke whales they intend to take as part of their scientific research programme JARPN II.

Proposals for two new whale sanctuaries – one in the South Atlantic, proposed by Brazil and Argentina, and one in the South Pacific, proposed by New Zealand and Australia gained majority votes but not the three quarter majority votes needed for adoption. Japan withdrew its proposal to abolish the Indian Ocean whale sanctuary.

Morley added: “While I am pleased that the Indian Ocean sanctuary will remain, I am obviously very disappointed at the outcome on the proposals for the two new sanctuaries. There is so much that is unknown about whale numbers and we really need more measures in place to protect them from over-exploitation before it is too late. It is no good closing
the stable door after the horse has bolted. But we will continue to work constructively within the IWC to address such issues.”