Japan announces IWC withdrawal to resume commercial whaling

Cesar Mills
December 26, 2018

Tokyo has long exploited a loophole allowing whales to be killed for "scientific research" and says it is trying to prove the population is large enough to sustain a return to commercial hunting.

"We have made a decision to withdraw from the International Whaling Commission in order to resume commercial whaling in July next year", Yoshihide Suga, top spokesperson for the Japanese government, told reporters.

Japan says it is leaving the International Whaling Commission to resume commercial hunts but says it will no longer go to the Antarctic to hunt.

"At the IWC general meeting in September this year, it became evident once again that those supporting the sustainable use of whale stocks and those supporting protection can not co-exist, leading us to this conclusion", Suga said.

Tokyo suspended its hunt for one season to re-tool its whaling programme with measures such as cutting the number of whales and species targeted, but resumed hunting in the 2015-2016 season.

Whale hunting has become a rare thorny subject in Japan's otherwise largely amiable foreign policy, with worldwide opposition only prompting conservatives to dig in deeper in support of the tradition.

"But if we don't explain internationally that whales are increasing. people won't understand", she added.

In the vote at that IWC meeting, 41 member countries opposed Japan's proposal to lift the IWC's moratorium on commercial whaling, while 27 members supported it, and two abstained.

Japan announces IWC withdrawal to resume commercial whaling

The Japanese government, which began scientific whaling in 1987, a year after the global whaling moratorium was introduced, has long maintained that most whale species are not endangered - six of the world's 13 "great whale species" are classified as endangered, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

Leaving the IWC means Japanese whalers will be able to resume hunting in Japanese coastal waters of minke and other whales now protected by the IWC.

Despite the fact that Japan officially refrained from whaling for about 30 years, whale meat from time to time could be found in the country's supermarkets and restaurants. It caps its Antarctic catch with a quota of 333 whales annually. Whaling communities and those who work in the industry have welcomed the resumption of commercial hunts, but others have expressed concern about whales and the expected damage to Japan's reputation.

Greenpeace Japan's executive director Sam Annesley said the decision was "out of step with the worldwide community".

The move to resume commercial whaling drew criticism from conservation groups and governments.

However, Japan's conservative government argues that there is a need to pass whaling culture on to the next generation.

Around 200,000 tons of whale meat was consumed in Japan each year in the 1960s, but it has fallen sharply to around 5,000 tons in recent years, according to government data.

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