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Japan blocks scrutiny of commercial sea fishing

June 13, 1997

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) _ Japan blocked U.S. proposals Friday aimed at increasing conservation of depleted fish stocks, but lost a bid to strip the International Whaling Commission of some of its powers.

The fisheries decision at the U.N. Convention on Trade in Endangered Species, the world’s largest gathering of conservationists, means huge commercial fishing industries, including Japan’s, will not face increased scrutiny for at least two more years.

Participants at the biannual conference are gearing up for voting next week on more than 80 other hotly debated proposals.

South Africa was using the conference to defend its push to resume selling rhinoceros horn, despite objections from environmentalists. There is a market for rhino horn in Middle Eastern countries that use it to craft traditional dagger handles, and in many Asian countries, where it is believed to have medicinal properties.

But Japan was the center of much of the attention Friday. By a 50-49 margin, it won a secret committee vote to stop the convention from creating a U.S.-proposed working group as a first step to drawing up protection measures for certain sea fish.

In a second vote, also conducted by secret balloting, 57 countries opposed Japanese demands to transfer control over whale conservation from the International Whaling Commission to the 138-nation gathering. Only 27 countries sided with Japan.

The convention has little expertise in whaling and has relied on the commission for its lead, so the resolution was widely seen as an effort to weaken whale conservation. The International Whaling Commission imposed a moratorium on whaling in 1986, but Japan and Norway have resumed hunting.

Measures defeated in committee votes cannot be voted on by the full convention next week.

The rhino horn will be one of the most controversial issues, with South Africa leading an African push to water down a ban on trading in rhinoceros products.

At the last convention two years ago, South Africa won the right to trade in live rhinos, which includes sales to zoos and game parks, while the ban on trading in rhinoceros horn remained intact.

On Friday, South Africa began a campaign aimed at gaining the right to sell rhino horn, perhaps at the next convention. It said it did not want to start selling rhino horn now, but wanted approval to begin negotiations with the main consumers on ways to regulate legal trading.

South Africa claimed Friday it could satisfy the world demand for rhino horn by selling its existing stock and by harvesting from its rhino population without culling or depleting the numbers.

``The only source presently available is illegal trade,″ said George Hughes, head of the wildlife service in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province, where most of Africa’s surviving white rhinoceros live.

The province has nursed South Africa’s white rhino population back from a low of 14 at the turn of the century to more than 7,000 today, Hughes said.

But Indian conservation groups seeking to rally opposition to the South African position say their country’s rhino population would be devastated by an easing of the ban on horn sales.

``As India is home to 70-80 percent of the world’s last remaining one-horned rhinos, we view this issue with the gravest concern,″ said an appeal signed by more than 5,000 Indian conservationists.

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