LONDON, Apr 21 (Reuters) A dozen countries including Britain, France, Germany and Australia called for an end to commercial whaling by Norway, which plans to step up whale hunts this year to the highest in two decades.
A senior British diplomat in Oslo delivered a formal statement to the Norwegian Foreign Ministry yesterday on behalf of the 12 countries, Britain said.
''The UK and many other countries remain strongly opposed to Norway's existing and unnecessary lethal whaling activities and we urge Norway to stop them,'' British Fisheries Minister Ben Bradshaw said in a statement.
''We shall continue to register our disapproval of all these whaling activities, which undermine the moratorium on commercial whaling...,'' he said.
Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Spain were the other countries to back the statement, issued soon after the start of the Norwegian whaling season on April 1.
The move comes two weeks before British local elections in which the main parties are vying to demonstrate their environmental credentials. David Cameron, leader of the opposition Conservatives, was visiting a Norwegian glacier yesterday to see the effect of global warming.
Norwegian officials said in December the country's 2006 whale catch will be the biggest since the early 1980s. It plans to harpoon 1,052 whales despite an international moratorium.
Norway, in a move hailed by whalers but blasted by environmentalists, also said it would expand hunts into international waters in the North Atlantic from its own zone for the first time since the 1980s.
''Any announcement of an increase in the 2006 quota is premature and not based upon the best scientific advice. It is disappointing that the Norwegian government are putting pressure on their scientists to justify the wide-scale destruction of this species,'' Britain's Bradshaw said.
A Norwegian Foreign Ministry spokesman was not immediately available for comment yesterday. But the government said in December that its 2006 quota was a step towards an ''ecosystem-based'' regulation of the whale hunt.
It said the hunt would be a conservative catch from a stock Norway estimates at 107,000 minke whales in its hunting areas in the North Atlantic.
Minkes are relatively plentiful compared to endangered blue whales.
Norway hunts whales for food as part of its coastal tradition. It has long said that whale stocks have grown uncontrollably since the moratorium was introduced in the mid-1980s while fish stocks are dwindling.
Japan, the other main whaling nation, also raised its target catch for minke whales last year to 850 in Antarctic waters, up from 440 despite opposition from anti-whaling nations. Minke whales are eaten as steaks.
The International Whaling Commission agreed a global moratorium in 1986 to help prevent extinction. Norway resumed commercial whaling in 1993, breaking with the moratorium.
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