FRIGATE BAY, St. Kitts – A slim majority of nations on the International Whaling Commission joined a resolution Sunday supporting a resumption of commercial whaling, but pro-whaling nations still lack the 75 percent majority needed to overturn the world's 20-year ban.
The resolution, approved by a vote of 33-32 with one abstention, declares that the moratorium on commercial whaling was meant to be temporary and is no longer needed.
"It's the first serious setback for those against whaling in years. It's only a matter of time before the commercial ban is overturned," said Glenn Inwood, a spokesman for the Japanese delegation.
The IWC meeting was thrown into chaos after the vote on the resolution authored by six Caribbean nations. It wasn't immediately clear what impact it would have, since policy changes regarding hunting require a 75 percent majority of the 70-member commission.
"This shows the power balance is shifting, but it really shows that both sides need to sit down, compromise and stop yelling from the trenches," said Rune Frovik, of pro-whaling group High North Alliance.
Delegates from small Caribbean and African countries said the resolution — the first of its kind since the 1986 ban — was needed to force the IWC to take up its original mandate of managing whale hunts — not banning them altogether. They've been pushing to lift the ban as a way to protect fish stocks from whales and give their small islands food security.
"We're dealing with an ecosystem where whales are on top of the food chain," said Daven Joseph, an IWC delegate from St. Kitts and Nevis.
"That's like blaming woodpeckers for deforestation," countered Vassili Papastavrou, a whale biologist for the International Fund for Animal Welfare. "The real issue is overfishing, not whales."
The resolution — drafted by St. Kitts, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Grenada, Dominica and Antigua — was joined by the major pro-whaling nations: Norway, Iceland, Japan and the Russia — the major pro-whaling nations — have also signed it.
Chris Carter, New Zealand's Conservation Minister, called the vote a hollow victory that "will ultimately lead to the defeat of Japan's pro-whaling ambitions."
"It shined the window of light for the world to see what's been going on in the IWC. Japan had a long, expensive campaign to achieve a whaling majority, which they got today," Carter added, referring to accusations that Japan has bought votes by financing fisheries in developing countries.
Japan and other pro-whaling countries had lost four previous pro-whaling votes at the meeting, thwarting their predicted takeover of the organization that manages whaling. But with each vote, conservationists have become more worried that pro-whaling nations will eventually control the commission.
"This is going to wake people up and cause a big backlash, but it's also pretty bad, too," said Javier Figueroa, of the Argentinian delegation, which opposes commercial whaling.
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.
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 conference is expected to continue meeting Monday on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts.