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Whaling: Greenland hunt gets okay, Iceland blasted

©Reuters ©Reuters

 The International Whaling Commission (IWC) gave aboriginal Greenlanders the go-ahead Monday to kill hundreds of whales even as Iceland came under fire for contravening a ban on commercial hunting, AFP reports.

The commission's 65th meeting kicked off in Slovenia with a vote of 46 to 11, with three abstentions, in favour of Greenland's proposed 207 kills per year from 2015 to 2018.

The issue was an agenda-topping item, with conservationists fearing much of the meat meant for aboriginal subsistence was actually being sold.

"More than 800 whales were condemned today just in the Greenland vote," Wendy Higgins of the Humane Society International (HSI) told AFP on the first day of the controversy-laden gathering in Slovenia.

Greenland's hunters will be able to take 176 minke, 19 fin, 10 humpback and two bowhead whales per year.

The European Union and United States, having voted in favour of Greenland's quota, meanwhile led a call on Iceland to halt its commercial whaling programme, to which they expressed "strong opposition".

Australia, Brazil, Israel, Mexico and New Zealand also signed the protest letter which the EU's executive Commission said was delivered to the government of Iceland.

"We are not convinced that Iceland's harvest and subsequent trade of fin whales meets any domestic market demand or need; it also undermines effective international cetacean conservation efforts," according to the text, made public in Brussels.

Iceland and Norway issue commercial permits under objections or reservations registered against the IWC's 1986 whaling moratorium.

Icelandic whalers caught 134 fin whales and 35 minkes in 2013, according to IWC figures, and Norway 594 minkes.

Greenland's hunts are allowed under a special aboriginal subsistence dispensation that also applies to whale-eating communities in North America, Russia, Greenland and the Caribbean nation of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

Yet animal groups fear the Greenland quota is being abused.

"We are concerned that the new IWC quota will give Greenland more whale meat than its native people need for nutritional subsistence and that the surplus will continue to be sold commercially, including to tourists," said the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI).

While Greenland claimed to need about 800 metric tonnes of whale meat a year for subsistence, academic studies have shown that the Inuit population consumes closer to 500 tonnes a year, it added.

At the IWC's last gathering, in 2012, Denmark's bid for a higher quota for former colony Greenland was rejected after a bust-up with the rest of the European Union.

The EU approved the bid this time round, which helped push it to the three-quarters vote majority required. The no voters were mainly Latin American countries.

Observers had predicted the quota was likely to be approved in Slovenia, with the EU and United States keen to bring Greenland, an autonomous, Danish-dependent territory, back under official IWC control.

In 2013, despite having no quota, Greenland hunters killed nine fin, eight humpback and 181 minke whales -- 198 in total.

  More controversy to follow 

Among the other contentious agenda items, the four-day commission meeting must still debate Japan's controversial plans to resume Antarctic whaling.

The UN's highest court found in March that Japan had abused a hunting allowance for purposes of scientific research.

Japan cancelled its 2014/15 Antarctic hunt after the ruling, but a fisheries official told AFP his country would "explain its plan to resume research whaling in the next season (2015-16)" at the IWC meeting.

The country killed more than 250 minkes in the previous season.

Tokyo's plans are vigorously opposed by other member states, led by New Zealand which has filed a draft resolution for steps to better regulate scientific whaling in future.

Other topics are a proposal for the creation of a South Atlantic whale sanctuary, and Japanese plans for small-scale commercial whaling in its own coastal area.

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