The International Whaling Commission gathered Monday beset by familiar divisions and facing calls for reforms to improve transparency and root out alleged corruption.
Whether or how to revamp the global body overseeing both the protection and hunting of whales dominated debate at the opening session of its 63rd annual meeting.
When the IWC was created after World War II, the main danger facing cetaceans — an order including some 80 types of whales, dolphins and porpoises — were too many factory ships chasing too few whales.
A 1986 moratorium, respected by all but a handful of nations, helped save several species from the brink of extinction.
But today the great sea mammals are also threatened by ship collisions, climate change, pollution and "ghost" fishing nets that roam the seas, and some delegates say the IWC is too "archaic" and riddled with graft to fulfill its dual mandate.
"We think its procedures need modernizing and we are coming forward with the bare minimum of requirements for an international organisation in the modern age," Britain's junior environment minister, Richard Benyon, told AFP on the sidelines of the opening plenary session held on the Channel island of Jersey.
Benyon said the British plan should garner support both from "countries that support a return to commercial whaling as well as countries, like mine and France, that don't."
The chronically deadlocked body was rocked last year by accusations in the British press that Japan used cash and development aid to "buy" votes from Caribbean and African nations.
Japan, which denied the charges, is one of three countries along with Norway and Iceland that practice large-scale whaling despite the moratorium.
Collectively, they take hundreds of the marine mammals each year.
Smaller quotas are granted to other nations for traditional, indigenous whaling.
Britain's resolution would end the practice whereby states can pay annual subscriptions by cash or check.
Ranging from several thousand to more than 100,000 euros ($140,000), fees would have to be paid by bank transfer from the government concerned to reduce the risk of influence-peddling.
Also on the table are measures to boost the integrity and authority of the IWC's scientific committee, provide greater voice and access for non-governmental organisations, and report more quickly and fully on Commission proceedings.
Japan has yet to formally comment on the proposed reforms, but a spokesman expressed scepticism on how much progress could be made.
"Ten years ago the environment minister for the United Kingdom came to this meeting saying, 'I'm going to fix it'. He never did," said Glen Inwood, spokesman for the Japanese delegation.
"There is a range of issues here, it's too big and one minister from England can't do it."
"Japan still wants to achieve the normalization of this organization because it has been dysfunctional for years," he told AFP.
Britain alone is submitting the resolution rather than the 27-member European Union because Denmark has so far refused to back the measures.
Denmark generally aligns itself with pro-whaling nations because two of its territories, the Faroes and Greenland, have deeply rooted whaling traditions.
Conservation groups described the British plan as the first step in a redefinition of the global body's mission.
"Greenpeace wants the IWC to transform itself from a body concerned with catching whales to a body concerned with the conservation of whales," said John Frizell of Greenpeace International.
A much-touted attempt at the IWC's 2010 meeting in Agadir, Morocco, to bridge the decades-old divide between environmentalists and whale industry interests collapsed, and negotiators say no real compromise is in the offing this time.