WASHINGTON – An ad-hoc group within the International Whaling Commission suggested Monday that the commission condone commercial whaling for the first time in nearly 30 years in exchange for reducing the number of whales killed each year.

The draft plan, the product of nearly a year and a half of closed-door talks, aims to break a long-standing deadlock between countries that favor whaling and those that oppose it. Only three countries — Japan, Norway and Iceland — still hunt whales, though they have the support of dozens of other members of the IWC.

The proposal does not say exactly how many whales would be killed each year as part of the whaling compromise, which would last for 10 years. The chairman of the IWC support group, Chile’s Cristian Maquieira, wrote in his report to the commission that any final deal would ”reduce catches significantly from current levels” and ”establish caps of takes that are within sustainable levels for a ten year period.”

The U.S. commissioner to the IWC, Monica Medina, said in an interview that the process remains ”incomplete” and the Obama administration has not decided whether to endorse the document. But she said the administration was eager to find some sort of resolution to the impasse that has undermined conservation efforts and allowed whaling to continue unchecked for decades, despite the fact that a moratorium on commercial whaling has been in effect since the mid-’80s.

Japan kills hundreds of whales each year on the grounds that it is ”scientific whaling,” a permissible practice under IWC rules. Both Norway and Iceland hunt whales commercially, saying they do not accept the commission’s moratorium. In 1990, 300 whales were hunted annually for commercial or scientific purposes, a number that increased to 1,000 10 years later. In the past five years almost 2,000 whales were killed each year.

”It’s troubling that whales continue to be killed,” Medina said. ”All of our loudly articulated and strongly felt views have not resulted in an end to commercial and lethal scientific whaling. In fact, whaling has steadily increased since 1990. We view this effort at finding a negotiated solution as an interim step toward full reform of the IWC and its promotion of whale conservation.”

Environmentalists were quick to condemn the draft plan as opening the door to official whaling.

”This is a proposal for the long-term conservation of whaling, not whales,” said Patrick Ramage, the International Fund for Animal Welfare’s global whale program manager.


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