The troubled International Whaling Commission has tightened up its rules in a battle to overcome long-standing complaints of vote buying.
The IWC agreed after a lengthy debate last night to refuse cash payments for membership, ending one of the more brazen methods of ensuring poor pro-whaling countries could vote at its meetings.
Instead, they will have to pay by bank transfer from government accounts, which will allow for better transparency.
Complaints of Japanese vote-buying have dogged the organisation for more than a decade, with Australian delegates repeatedly observing the handover of cash to developing nations.
The practice has been repeatedly exposed by green groups, by the ABC’s Four Corners in 2005, and by Britain’s The Sunday Times last year.
Under a British proposal, subscriptions which can range from a few thousand dollars to more than $100,000 will only be accepted by bank transfer.
A resolution agreed by consensus will also mean more timely reporting of IWC decisions and stronger scientific peer-review of its reports.
Japanese deputy delegation head Joji Morishita told the meeting in Jersey: “I’d like this resolution not to be treated as as a win by some over others.”
Mick McIntyre, of the Australian conservation group Whales Alive, said: “The IWC has finally started to clean up its act. The IWC still has a major role to play in protecting whales and this anti-corruption measure is a crucial step in stopping whaling.
“This is a historic day for whale protection. Today we took a huge step forward in our battle to stop whaling. Without the ability for Japan to buy votes, the balance will swing back towards whale conservation and back in line with world opinion.”
He said the 89 member countries of the IWC were almost evenly split between pro- and anti-whaling countries.
Despite being forced out of the Antarctic by Sea Shepherd harassment, Japan’s whalers are holding their line, indicating at the meeting that they still want to hunt in the south.
The Japanese IWC Commissioner, Kenji Kagawa, said the government made the difficult decision to recall the whaling fleet part way through its season last February to protect human lives.
“But I would like to stress that our decision does not indicate any change in Japan’s whaling policy,” Mr Kagawa said in a statement.
However, the Fisheries Agency which supervises the fleet has been unable to obtain ship support from the Japan Coast Guard. If the fleet is to return, it must find a way to secure ships and whalers against harassment by the Sea Shepherd group.
Mr Morishita, a senior Fisheries Agency official, said the government was discussing how it could send the fleet back.
“Simply put, the attack from Sea Shepherd organisation is the one we have to consider how we prevent that to happen again,” Mr Morishita told the BBC in Jersey.
For the first time last season, Sea Shepherd’s three ships were able to outlast the whalers. With the key factory ship Nisshin Maru unable to shake off the activists, the whalers only managed to catch 172 whales from a self-awarded quota of up to 985.
Japan’s Institute of Cetacean Research said in an official Cruise Report that for the first time in 24 years “eco-terrorism” forced it to quit a perfectly legal activity.
Sea Shepherd’s leader, Paul Watson, said the group was seeking a fourth vessel to counter the Japanese tactic of trailing each of his ships, as he geared up an operation for next summer designated “Divine Wind”.