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A major showdown at the International Whaling Commission (IWC) seems all but guaranteed, with warnings the organisation's upcoming meeting in September will be make or break.
In an exclusive interview, the incoming chair of the IWC — who used to be Japan's chief whaling negotiator — told the ABC the organisation cannot continue on the same path of dispute and deadlock.
But Australia's Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg has said he would oppose any moves to weaken the decision-making process within the organisation at the meeting in Brazil in September.
Joji Morishita will take over as chair at the meeting and has warned there must be major changes in order to break the deadlock between pro- and anti-whaling countries.
“The only way to break this deadlock … is to change the paradigm,” Professor Morishita said.
“If you cannot change the paradigm from that of mutual denial … this organisation will be having a very difficult time or might lose its reason to exist.”
Last year during Japan's highly disputed scientific whaling program, fishermen harpooned 333 Antarctic minke whales — 122 of which were pregnant.
For this year's meeting, Japan has proposed a restructure of the organisation that would make it easier to pass decisions — a move it hopes would make it easier to eventually resume commercial whaling.
About 40 of the 88 members of the IWC support whaling, according to Japan's fisheries agency.
Japanese MP Kiyoshi Ejima said “the IWC has become dysfunctional for many years and nothing can be decided”.
“Originally, it was an organisation that's concerned with resource management, but currently it's in a deadlock which can't move forward or back,” he said.
Professor Morishita said despite his former job as Japan's chief negotiator, he would be representing the IWC and not the Japanese Government.
This is his first commission meeting — one of the two major forums of the IWC — as chair.
He said changing the IWC's decision-making could be one way fulfil his desire to "change the paradigm".
“I cannot speak for Japan so I will not be able to explain the background of the proposal, but the decision-making system is one of the obvious areas for changes if you like to change the paradigm,” he said.
But Frydenberg vowed to stop any proposal to “change the decision-making process to make it easier to kill whales”.
“You don't need to kill whales to study them,” he said.
“We're very committed to ensuring that the International Whaling Commission remains the pre-eminent organisation to protect whales and that its focus is on conservation.
“It has worked as an organisation for more than seven decades and it needs to continue to work effectively into the future.”
Ejima, who will attend the meeting as part of the Japanese Government's delegation, said Australians did not appreciate his country's position.
“I personally think that's no different from banning pork meat from the world if Islamic countries lead the world.
“Humans are on the top of the food chain — we eat living creatures with gratitude and by properly managing the resources.
“I believe it's a path we should take regarding animals and plants including whales.”
He said Japan wanted to resume commercial whaling — sustainably.
"It'll be commercial whaling based on understanding of the number of [whales] based on science and calculation which properly manages the numbers in the future," he said.
That is a position the Australian Government refuses to accept.
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