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Tradable quotas 'could save whales'

Introducing quotas for catching whales that could be bought and sold could reduce the number of the marine mammals killed each year, it has been claimed.

Writing in the journal Nature, academics from the United States said a market of quotas which could be traded 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.

In 2010, a 10-year "peace plan" drawn up by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) proposed limited quotas for those countries which continue to hunt the mammals despite the ban. The plan would have seen Iceland, Norway and Japan agree to catch limits set by the commission and based on scientific advice.

The bid to introduce quotas failed, but the US academics said a trading market could benefit whales and whalers.

In their comment piece, they suggested quotas could 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 US dollars (£8,500) for a minke and 85,000 US dollars (£55,000) for an endangered fin whale. As a result, prices for whale quotas should be within the reach of conservation groups.

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."

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