The International Whaling Commission began its annual meeting Monday with a call by host nation Japan to permit the resumption of commercial whaling. Japan's pro-whaling stance is meeting with fierce resistance from countries that oppose what they see as the slaughter of endangered animals.

Tensions are running high in the seaside town of Shimonoseki, Japan, a former whaling center 825 kilometers southwest of Tokyo which is the site of the commission's five-day plenary meeting.

Japan, where people have eaten whale meat for centuries, wants the IWC to lift the global ban on commercial whaling during the session. However, it is unclear whether delegates will vote on commercial whaling this year because they disagree on what constitutes sustainable hunts.

In his opening address, Tsutomu Takebe, Japan's agriculture minister, says he hopes "the meeting will encourage IWC members to treat whales similarly to other marine resources." He adds that he hopes "members can move towards a plan for what he calls sustainable use."

Japan argues that whales are destroying the world's fish stocks. But the head of the U.S. delegation, Rolland Schmitt, said on Monday that Japan should stop spreading false claims. He said the real reason for the decline in fish stocks is over-fishing. Representatives from Britain, New Zealand, Mexico and Brazil also oppose Japan's position and want it to stop its so-called research hunts.

Japan wants permission to expand the program, which it says it uses to study the mammals. In the process, however, the whales are killed. Japan would like to increase the number of whales killed annually in the northern Pacific to 260 whales this year, including 50 sei whales, a species which activists say is endangered.

In a blow to the pro-whaling side, the IWC voted not to restore full membership to Iceland. Admitting Iceland as a voting member would have increased the number of countries backing the resumption of commercial whaling. Iceland, once a full member, was denied voting rights when it refused to sign the 1986 commercial whaling moratorium.

Security is tight, with dozens of police and even the Coast Guard deployed in the area.