Japan has proposed an end to a decades-old ban on commercial whaling, arguing there is no longer a scientific reason for what was supposed to be a temporary measure.
But the proposal faces stiff opposition from countries that argue that many whale populations are still vulnerable or that the killing of whales is unacceptable.
Japan currently kills whales under a provision that allows hunting for research purposes.
“Science is clear: there are certain species of whales whose population is healthy enough to be harvested sustainably,” reads the Japanese proposal, presented on Monday at the biannual International Whaling Commission meeting in Brazil.
“Japan proposes to establish a committee dedicated to sustainable whaling (including commercial whaling and aboriginal subsistence whaling).”
Japan’s proposal would also change how the international body operates, reflecting its frustration with an organisation that it says has become “intolerant” and a “mere forum for confrontation”.
While Japan argues that whale stocks have recovered sufficiently to allow for commercial hunting, conservationists contend whaling on the high seas has proven difficult to manage.
“Time and again, species after species has been driven to near extinction,” director of marine conservation at the International Fund for Animal Welfare Patrick Ramage said.
Japan has hunted whales for centuries as a cheaper alternative source of protein to meat.
The research program remains controversial, however, and some contend it is a cover for commercial whaling because the whale meat is sold for food.
Australia has been one of Japan’s biggest critics on the issue.
“The Australian people have clearly made a decision that they don’t believe that whaling is something that we should be undertaking in the 21st century,” Australia’s assistant minister for international development and the Pacific, Anne Ruston said.
“The argument that we put forward from Australia is that we don’t want to see any whales killed, whether they’re killed because (of) commercial whaling or whether it’s so-called scientific whaling.”