ELLSWORTH — Japan will resume commercial whale hunting next summer for the first time since the International Whaling Commission imposed a moratorium on the fishery more than 30 years ago.
On Dec. 26, Yoshihide Suga, Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, announced that the country would withdraw from the IWC on June 30, 2019, and resume commercial whaling “in line with Japan’s basic policy of promoting sustainable use of aquatic living resources based on scientific evidence.”
According to the announcement, the IWC has “a dual mandate”: the conservation of whales and the “orderly development of the whaling industry.” The moratorium, Suga’s statement said, was imposed with the goal of “realizing sustainable commercial whaling.” In the view of the Japanese government, that effort has failed.
The International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling was signed in 1946, establishing the International Whaling Commission. Currently, 89 nations are IWC members.
The convention includes a legally binding schedule that sets catch limits for commercial and aboriginal subsistence whaling. Amendments to the catch limits are usually approved at the IWC’s biennial meetings
That hasn’t satisfied the Japanese government’s desires to have a commercial whale fishery.
“Japan has sincerely engaged in the dialogues in the IWC for over 30 years on the basis of scientific data collected, while actively taking part in the efforts seeking for acceptable solutions to all member states,” Suga said in his official statement. “Nevertheless, although scientific evidence has confirmed that certain whale species/stocks of whales are abundant, those member states that focus exclusively on the protection of whales, while ignoring the other stated objective of the (whaling convention), refused to agree to take any tangible steps towards reaching a common position that would ensure the sustainable management of whale resources.”
Japan contends that the commission never “properly considered” modifying the whaling moratorium “despite the IWC’s legal obligation” no later than 1990.
As a practical matter, Japan never abandoned commercial whaling. Under the guise of “scientific research,” Japan has been allowed to catch up to 333 minke whales in Antarctic waters annually. Last year, according to reports by Japanese fisheries authorities, 122 pregnant female whales were caught during the 2017-2018 hunting season.
Beginning in July, the announcement said, Japan will hunt whales only in its territorial waters and “exclusive economic zone,” an area that stretches 200 miles from the coastline. Japan will “cease the take of whales” from Antarctic waters.
While the Japanese whale hunt has been justified on scientific grounds, the whalers have also been allowed to sell the whale meat they bring to shore. According to reports published by the Japanese government, consumption of whale meat has declined precipitously, from some 233,000 tons in 1962 to about 3,000 tons in 2016.
In the government statement, Japan said that, as a nation, it has historically “used whales not only as a source of protein but also for a variety of other purposes,” including the support of local communities and “thereby developed the life and culture of using whales.” Recent data indicates that, as of 2013, the whaling industry employed fewer than 1,000 and relied heavily on subsidies from the Japanese government.
“We are of course aware of the announcement from Japan,” IWC spokeswoman Kate Wilson said in an email last Thursday. “Once we have formal notification from the U.S.,” which will receive a formal notice of the withdrawal from the Japanese government, “we will be able to inform our members and issue a statement to media.”
Japan’s decision has already drawn several responses.
According to a published joint statement by Marise Payne, Australia’s minister for foreign affairs, and Melissa Price, the nation’s minister for the environment, Australia is “extremely disappointed” by Japan’s action. “Australia remains resolutely opposed to all forms of commercial and so-called ‘scientific’ whaling.”
Days before Japan made its formal announcement, Sea Shepherd, an environmental nongovernmental organization that has used its own ships to challenge Japan’s whaling in the Antarctic for a dozen years, issued a statement in response to news of the proposal. The organization’s founder, Paul Watson, said Japan’s withdrawal from the IWC was good news.
“This means that Japan is now openly declaring their illegal whaling activities,” Watson said. “No more pretense of research whaling. With this announcement, Japan has declared themselves as a pirate whaling nation.”