Japan to resume commercial whale hunting, says whale stocks have recovered

IWC has become more like an opponent of whaling than an organization aiming for sustainability: Japan.

Japan has decided to leave the International Whaling Commission, a regulatory body for commercial whale hunting activity globally, to resume commercial hunting.

However, the country's representatives expressed that they will no longer go to the Antarctic to carry out their whale hunting.

Japan’s commercial whaling will be limited to its own territorial and economic waters, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Wednesday, The Associated Press reported.

The IWC is responsible for setting catch limits for commercial whaling (except for catches by countries that object or have reservations to the current moratorium on it).

The IWC imposed a commercial moratorium in the 1980s due to a dwindling whale population. Japan switched to what it calls "research whaling" and says stocks have recovered enough to resume the commercial hunt.

The research program was criticized as a cover for commercial hunting as the meat is sold on the market at home.

Japanese representatives have said the IWC has become more like an opponent of whaling than an organization aiming for sustainability. The country has scaled back its catch since decades ago, with people in Japan now consuming very little whale meat, AP reports.

Commercial whaling. Image: IWC

Commercial whaling. Image: IWC

Japanese Fisheries Agency official and longtime IWC negotiator Hideki Moronuki said Japan would use the IWC’s method to carefully determine a catch quota based on science, but declined to give any actual estimates.

He said Japan plans to use seven existing whaling hubs on the Pacific coast for its upcoming commercial hunts.

Moronuki said Japan is starting with a modest plan because it has to figure out if or how commercial whaling can be a viable industry. “What’s most important is to have a diverse and stable food supply,” he said.

The Fisheries Agency said Japan plans to catch three kinds of whale that are believed to have sufficient stocks — minke, sei and Bryde’s.

Japan has hunted whales for centuries, but reduced its catch following international protests and declining demand for whale meat at home. The withdrawal from the IWC may be a face-saving step to stop Japan’s ambitious Antarctic hunts and scale down the scope of whaling to around the Japanese coasts.

Japan slashed its annual quota in the Antarctic by about one third after the International Court of Justice ruled in 2014 that the country’s research whaling program wasn’t as scientific as it had argued. Japan currently hunts about 600 whales annually in the Antarctic and the Northern Pacific.

An Icelandic whaling catcher with 2 whales. Image: IWC

An Icelandic whaling catcher with 2 whales. Image: IWC

Fisheries officials have said Japan annually consumes thousands of tons of whale meat from the research hunts, mainly by older Japanese seeking a nostalgic meal. It’s a fraction of the country’s whale meat supply of about 200,000 tons before the IWC moratorium. Critics say they doubt commercial whaling can be a sustainable industry because younger Japanese may not view the animals as food.

The IWC receives advice on sustainability from its Scientific Committee and this assists it in deciding catch limits, which are then sent out in a document called the 'Schedule' to the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (1946).

In 1982. the IWC decided that there should be a pause in commercial whaling on all whale species and populations (known as 'whale stocks') from the 1985/1986 season onwards.

This pause is often called a "commercial whaling moratorium", and remains in place today for most of the world's countries except a handful. Japan, Russia and the Nordic countries are a few of the exception, who have chosen to dictate their own whaling quotas.


with inputs from the Associated Press


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