FRIGATE BAY, St. Kitts – Small nations that support commercial whale hunting threw their support behind a resolution at the International Whaling Commission on Sunday to overturn a 20-year ban on the practice.
If approved, it would mark a victory for pro-whalers after two days of narrow defeats that have left conservationists in charge of the 60-year-old organization. Dubbed the St. Kitts Declaration, the resolution was authored by six Caribbean nations.
"This is the big one," said Chris Carter, New Zealand's Conservation Minister. "The whalers are hopeful that they have the numbers at last."
Delegates from small Caribbean and African countries said the resolution was needed to force the IWC to take up its original mandate of managing whale hunts — not banning them altogether.
The resolution declares that the moratorium on commercial whaling was meant to be temporary and is no longer valid. Although most measures to overturn the ban require a 75 percent majority, the resolution would need a simple majority to pass.
Caribbean environmental and tourist groups rejected the resolution and released a competing one calling for whale conservation.
Both Japan and Iceland kill whales for scientific research — which critics call a sham — and sell the carcasses. Norway ignores the moratorium and openly conducts commercial whaling.
Caribbean leaders said a return to whaling would help them maintain food security by protecting fisheries from whales.
"We're dealing with an ecosystem where whales are on top of the food chain," added Daven Joseph, an IWC delegate from the Caribbean nation of St. Kitts and Nevis.
Pro-whaling nations often argue that whales should be culled to protect fish stocks.
"That's like blaming woodpeckers for deforestation," said Vassili Papastavrou, a whale biologist for the International Fund for Animal Welfare. "The real issue is overfishing, not whales."
Hery Coulibaly, an IWC delegate from the African country of Mali, said his vote for responsible whaling is consistent with positions his nation takes on sustainable hunting at the United Nations and other international organizations.
The resolution — drafted by St. Kitts, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Grenada, Dominica and Antigua — was signed by 30 mostly developing countries. Norway, Iceland, Japan and the Russia have also signed it.
Environmental groups have accused developing nations of voting with Japan in return for money for fisheries projects — which Japan and those countries have repeatedly denied.
Caribbean tourism officials have said they are concerned that their countries' support of whaling might lead travelers to boycott the region.
"Such threats are tantamount to economic terrorism," said Joanne Massiah, Food Production and Marine Resources Minister for the Caribbean nation of Antigua and Barbuda.
The five-day meeting of the International Whaling Commission runs through Tuesday in the Caribbean island of St. Kitts.