NZ Govt welcomes end to whaling season

Foreign Minister Murray McCully says he welcomes today's announcement by the Japanese Government that its whaling fleet will stop whaling in the Southern Ocean and return home.

"The New Zealand Government and public strongly oppose whaling in the Southern Ocean," Mr McCully said tonight. "Clearly the withdrawal of the fleet is something that we welcome."

"I hope that the early cessation of whaling for this season will allow time for constructive dialogue to resolve the international impasse on whaling issues."

Mr McCully said New Zealand wanted a long-term solution, and its objective was a framework for the permanent elimination of whaling in the Southern Ocean.

"It is our hope that we will have the opportunity to pursue this now through further discussion," he said after Japanese farm and fisheries minister Michihiko Kano announced the Japanese whaling season in the Southern Ocean was being cut short because of harassment by environmentalists.

Japan was calling its harpoon ships home "to ensure the safety of the whaling crew amid the continuing harassment by anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd," Mr Kano said.

In Gisborne, Green Party spokesman Gareth Hughes said he hoped that the Japanese Government's announcement might signal that whaling in the Antarctic is coming to an end.

"All the signs are indicating that this may be the last season," said Mr Hughes, an MP and the party's oceans spokesman. "We're hopeful that it will be the last, ever. Plainly, the economics don't stack up".

Mr Hughes said the claim of harassment had given the Japanese a face-saving way to avoid pressures such as hardening opposition, and dropping demand for whale meat.

"The young Japanese don't support whaling, don't eat whales,and often don't like the taste," he said.

The old guard of politicians who fondly remembered whale meat from the period after World War 2 were dropping out of leadership.

Mr Hughes said the New Zealand Government should have sent strong message to the Japanese - such by putting an offshore patrol vessel in the Southern Ocean to monitor the whalers and protest vessels.

Activists from the US-based militant environmental group the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society have pursued the Japanese fleet for months to stop its harpoon ships from killing the giant sea mammals.

Jiji Press news agency quoted Mr Kano as saying about the factory ship the Nisshin Maru: "Even now the mothership is being chased, and it is difficult to ensure the safety of the crew members."

Japan kills hundreds of whales a year under a loophole in a 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling that allows "lethal research".

The Government has long defended the practice as part of the island nation's culture and makes no secret of the fact that the meat ends up in restaurants.

Anti-whaling nations, led by Australia and New Zealand, and environmental groups call the hunts cruel and unnecessary.

Greenpeace has argued the state-financed whale hunts were a waste of taxpayers' money, producing excess stockpiles of whale meat.

And Sea Shepherd activists have harassed whalers in recent years, moving their ships and their inflatable and speed boats between the harpoon vessels and the sea mammals, and throwing stink and paint bombs at the whaling ships, trying to prevent the whalers from filling their seasonal quota of 945 whales.

- NZPA

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