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Latest Japanese Pro-Whaling Poll

17 March 2002
NZ Govt "Not Convinced" After Latest Japanese Pro-Whaling Poll

"This is no basis for changing the current international moratorium on commercial whaling," said Conservation Minister Sandra Lee today.

She was commenting on a Japanese government poll of 3,453 people showing 75% support for a return to commercial whaling 'managed in a rational and sustainable way'.

"We are very long way from having clear evidence that the reason for the moratorium being established has changed," Ms Lee said. "Quite the contrary in fact.

"Many whale stocks remain as threatened now as they were when the moratorium was introduced in 1986.

"The populations of great whales remain substantially depleted and their recovery would be seriously affected by any resumption of commercial whaling. Japan argues that its kills would be sustainable but the evidence suggests otherwise."

Ms Lee said the New Zealand government was not convinced that whale species were now robust enough to be sustainably utilised. She said such suggestions were a long way from being proven.

"For the use of a species to be sustainable, at a rate that does not lead to long-term decline, the first priority must be to ensure the long-term viability of the species," Ms Lee said. "Only a handful of the populations are greater than one-third of their original numbers of a hundred years ago.

"Many members of the International Whaling Commission accept that for whales, this means they should not and may never again be subjected to global commercial whaling."

The Conservation Minister said the IWC's scientific committee acknowledges that whale populations are notoriously difficult to estimate.

For example, she said, the IWC's 1992 population estimate of 760,000 Southern Hemisphere minke whales has been officially abandoned. While a new estimate is not due until 2004, recent data suggests the population is as low as 270,000 or fewer.

Ms Lee said that, despite the fact there is currently no commercial whaling occurring in the South Pacific region, the recovery and long-term status of whale populations remains uncertain.

She said any commercial whaling in our region was likely to cause irreversible damage to whale populations.

"This is not the time to repeat the destruction caused by the industrial whaling of the 19th and 20th centuries," the Conservation Minister said.

Ms Lee said the IWC, which meets next in May at the Japanese whaling fleet homeport of Shimonoseki, is an international body that takes into account the fact whales are not the concern of any one country but travel the oceans of the world.

She said while the Japanese government's view on whaling is given all due respect, the prevailing view of the IWC has been to support the 1986 international moratorium on commercial whaling.

The Conservation Minister said New Zealand endorses the IWC position that the scientific information sought by Japan does not justify the killing of whales for scientific research, and that such information could be gained by non-lethal means.

Ms Lee said while the current balance of votes within the IWC might mean that major policy changes were difficult to implement, this did not preclude cooperation amongst like-minded members on a range of issues related to the global future of whales.

The Conservation Minister concluded by responding to Japanese claims that whales were a significant reason for a decline in global fish stocks.

"This is nonsense," Ms Lee said. "Industrial fishing and the acknowledged over-capacity of global fishing fleets are the major factors behind reduced catches.

"As former British minister Tony Banks once observed: blaming the declining global fish stocks on whales is akin to blaming woodpeckers for deforestation."


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