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Environmentalists Warn of New Dawn in Commercial Whaling

The international environmental group WWF has criticized a new plan on whaling released by the International Whaling Commission. It says the draft proposal would bring to an end a ban on commercial whaling that has lasted over two decades.

The proposal set out by the International Whaling Commission, or IWC, outlines how whaling can be regulated.

The plan would see whaling quotas set for Japan, Norway, and Iceland - the only three nations that currently hunt whales.

Environmental groups say the plan would pave the way for commercial whaling.

Wendy Elliott from WWF says the main concern is that whaling in the Southern Ocean, where Japanese harpoons are especially active, will be allowed to continue. "Essentially what the compromise would do is allow commercial whaling in the Southern Ocean. This is a designated whale sanctuary, it's one of the key places in the world for whales - if there is one place on earth where whales should be protected it is there," she said.

The proposed plan does not contain numbers on what the whaling cap will be but Elliott says she fears quotas may be set that haven't received full scientific review. "There appears to be an intention to set quotas for whaling that are based on political discussions rather than science. That takes us absolutely back to the dark ages of whaling management," she said.

But Nicky Grandi from the IWC says the quotas will be based on science. Whaling would be under IWC control and catch limits would be set by the commission on the advice of the scientific committees," she said.

She says under the new proposal whaling would be better regulated. She says the IWC would set up international observers to monitor whaling and would have full control over the quotas.

Right now Japan, Norway, and Iceland set their own caps.

She says in effect the number of whales hunted would go down. "The idea is that the catches would be significantly reduced from current levels and they would be well below the levels that are considered sustainable," said Grandi.

The proposal will be discussed in March at an IWC meeting in Florida. The IWC has maintained a ban on all commercial whaling since 1986. But the WWF says over 1,000 whales are killed for the commercial market every year.