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WWF Condemns Norway's Lifting Whale Export Ban

17 January 2001

WWF Condemns Norway's Lifting Of Ban On Whale Exports

Gland, Switzerland - WWF today condemned an unexpected decision by the Norwegian Government to re-open international trade in whale products, in defiance of the long-standing global whaling moratorium and ban on whale meat trade.

The minority Norwegian Government's decision allows Norway to resume export of an unlimited amount of meat and blubber from North Atlantic minke whales, to Japan, Iceland and other nations. It was condemned by WWF as damaging to Norway's reputation as an environmentally friendly nation and as a move that could provoke the collapse of global whale conservation agreements.

"The Norwegian Government's unilateral action in re-opening trade in whale products puts the efforts of two international conventions to agree international safeguards for all whale species seriously at risk," said Cassandra Phillips, WWF's Coordinator for Whales.

A global moratorium on commercial whaling has been in force since 1986, negotiated by the International Whaling Commission (IWC), the sole body authorised to manage the world's great whales. The IWC is currently negotiating a new management system for whaling. Whales are also protected under the 1972 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) which forbids international trade in whale products. Norway, a CITES member, tried unsuccessfully last April to lift trade restrictions on minke whales but was defeated by larger than expected margins.

"Having tried and failed to weaken international safeguards for whales, Norway has now chosen to flout them altogether," added Cassandra Phillips.

Annually, Norway has hunted minke whales in the North Atlantic using a "self-awarded" quota. In the 2000 season, Norway set the quota at 655 minke whales but only managed to catch 487. The quota for 2001 is set at 549 animals. Norwegian domestic demand for whale meat is modest; the real prospect of high profits for Norway's whalers lies in re-opening trade with Japan. Japanese prices are three times as high for whale meat as in Norway. The difference in blubber prices is even greater as the Norwegians do not eat blubber.

Norway's change in policy was announced on 16 January jointly by representatives of its fisheries and foreign ministries. While observers viewed the decision as a domestic political move by the ruling Labour Party to gain favour with Norwegian voters in advance of elections later this year, the timing of the announcement also raised questions of a link to the U.S. presidential transition.

Norway has apparently had an understanding with the U.S. Clinton administration since 1994 under which the U.S. would not take any action against Norwegian coastal whaling if sales of the meat were restricted to domestic markets. Norway's decision today suggests it believes it has less to fear from the incoming Bush administration.

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