Japan and 20 other pro-whaling nations staged a walk-out at the International Whaling Commission, blocking a proposal to vote on a whaling sanctuary in the southern Atlantic and forcing the issue to be put off until next year.

The walkout en masse on the final day of this year’s IWC annual meeting was likely the first of its kind, a Japanese Fisheries Agency official said on Thursday. With less than the required majority of member nations present, the vote was not held.

After a nine-hour adjournment, the IWC decided to put off the issue for discussion at the start of next year’s meeting to be held in Panama. The proposal would likely have been rejected even if the vote had been held.

Nevertheless, Japan voiced its intention to walk out of the talks before the meeting gave the green light for the voting, saying the move hurts the momentum of dialogue between pro- and anti-whaling members.

While some members have been skeptical about the motives behind the strong request by Brazil and others to conduct the vote, others criticised the walkout as a denial of the democratic process.

During the four-day annual talks, held in St Helier on Jersey in the British Channel Islands, the IWC adopted new rules on membership payments to address allegations that Japan has been buying support from other members by paying the dues on their behalf.

It also adopted a resolution urging enhanced measures to prevent the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society from obstructing Japan’s so-called research whaling. Japan has long been lobbying for a suspension of the commission’s 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling.