WELLINGTON, New Zealand - The international body to control whaling worldwide could collapse if a deal cannot be reached to allow restricted commercial whaling, New Zealand's representative said Thursday.
Former New Zealand prime minister Geoffrey Palmer, who chairs an International Whaling Commission (IWC) group trying to negotiate a deal, said the IWC could fall apart.
"I think there is a big risk of that and I don't relish it," Palmer told reporters in Wellington.
"We cannot afford to see the end of the International Whaling Commission because if it comes to an end, there will be no international instrument for protecting the whales."
New Zealand is opposed to whaling but is supporting moves to allow restricted commercial whaling over the next 10 years if it means a big cut to the number of whales currently killed by Iceland, Norway and Japan.
Under an IWC moratorium introduced in 1986 commercial whaling was suspended, but Iceland and Norway ignore the edict while Japan uses a loophole allowing lethal scientific research.
Palmer said the three countries had been increasing the number of whales they hunted in recent years.
"At the moment the number of whales for which quotas have been issued are more than 3,000 - that should be halved and indeed that may not be enough in some places, at some times, and for some stocks."
"We are talking about a big reduction in the total number of whales killed compared with now," he said.
"An emotional attachment to a moratorium that is not working is not in my view realistic."
Palmer is travelling to Washington next week for a meeting of 30 countries involved in the IWC group trying to hammer out a deal in time for the commission's annual meeting in Morocco in June.
There is an April 22 deadline for coming up with a submission to go forward to the annual meeting.
Palmer said he was not confident the opposing sides of the whaling argument could agree on a workable deal, but said it was important they were still talking.
New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully also described a deal as "a long shot" but said it was worth trying.
"All the alternatives to holding these discussions are truly awful," he said.
Australia has taken a harder line, saying it will take Japan to the International Court of Justice if it does not agree by November to stop hunting in Antarctic waters.
New Zealand said it there was a good chance court action would fail, leaving controls on hunting weaker than ever.