|A whale caught and killed by a Japanese 'research' ship. Photograph: Reuters|
Introducing tradable quotas for catching whales could reduce the number of the marine mammals killed each year, researchers have suggested.
Writing in the journal Nature, US academics said a market of quotas that could be bought and sold would allow environmental groups to "purchase whales" to save them and let whalers profit from the animals without killing them.
Christopher Costello and Steven Gaines, of the University of California, and Leah R Gerber of Arizona State University have proposed the method of putting a "price tag" on whales in the face of the ongoing battle over whaling, which continues despite a global ban.
The researchers said that although a global moratorium began in 1986, the number of whales being caught has more than doubled since the early 1990s to almost 2,000 each year.
"A fervent anti-whaler will be quick to argue that you cannot and should not put a price on the life of a whale; a species should be protected irrespective of its economic value," the researchers write.
"But unless all nations can by convinced or forced to adopt this view, whaling will continue. It is precisely because of the lack of a real price tag in the face of different values that anti-whaling operations have had such limited success."
In 2010, a 10-year "peace plan" drawn up by the International Whaling Commission proposed limited quotas for those countries that continue to hunt the mammals despite the ban.
The plan would have meant that Iceland and Norway, which hunt commercially, along with Japan, which exploits a loophole allowing it to catch whales under an exemption for "scientific" whaling, agree to catch limits set by the commission and based on scientific advice.
The bid to introduce quotas – which the IWC said would save several thousands of whales – failed, but the US academics said a trading market could benefit whales and whalers.
In their comment piece, they propose that quotas be allocated, at sustainable levels, to all member nations of the IWC, who would have the choice of using them or retiring them.
The majority of the quotas could be divided between whaling and non-whaling nations based on historical whaling patterns, with the remainder auctioned and the proceeds going to whale conservation.
The scientists said calculations based on market prices and whaling costs put the profit per whale at around $13,000 (£8,500) for a minke and $85,000 for an endangered fin whale. As a result, prices for whale quotas should be within the reach of conservation groups and even some individuals.
The millions of pounds spent by conservation organisations on fighting whaling could be used to "purchase whales" by buying the quota, with the same or better effect.
It could reduce the number of whales caught – possibly even to zero – and suitably compensate whalers, the scientists said.
The academics acknowledged that policing a whale quota market would not be simple, but they said: "By placing an appropriate price tag on the life of a whale, a whale conservation market provides an immediate and tangible way to save them." by guardian.co.uk,