REVIEW - Japan's Decision To Resume Commercial Whaling Sparks Backlash Of Eco Activists

REVIEW - Japan's Decision to Resume Commercial Whaling Sparks Backlash of Eco Activists

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said on Wednesday that Tokyo had decided to pull out from the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and resume commercial whaling in July after a 30-year hiatus causing an immediate outcry of whale conservation activists.

MOSCOW (Pakistan Point News / Sputnik - 26th December, 2018) , Valentina Shvartsman - Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said on Wednesday that Tokyo had decided to pull out from the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and resume commercial whaling in July after a 30-year hiatus causing an immediate outcry of whale conservation activists.

By announcing its intentions to withdraw from the organization before the January 1 deadline, Japan will be able to resume commercial whale hunting since July 2019. The move was widely anticipated amid Japan's repeated bids to the IWC to lift the decades-long whaling ban and media reports alleging the country's withdrawal from the organization.

"As regards whaling, we have decided to resume commercial whaling starting July next year and to withdraw from the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling," Suga told a briefing.

The official noted that Japan had decided to withdraw from the organization since its calls for the whaling resumption due to the growing number of whales had not been supported by other states in the IWC.

"Commercial whaling ... will be limited to Japan's territorial waters and exclusive economic zones, we will not hunt in the Antarctic Ocean and Southern Hemisphere," Suga said.

Japan's decision to resume commercial whaling has caused an outcry among prominent anti-whaling activist groups.

The Whale & Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS), a UK-based international group aimed at conservation of all cetaceans, has condemned Japan's move warning that it had set a dangerous example.

"This is devastating news for the whales. The moratorium on commercial whaling is one of the biggest achievements of modern conservation. By resuming whaling outside IWC oversight Japan sets a dangerous example," Astrid Fuchs, programme lead at WDCS, said in a statement.

According to the organization, the whale population has not yet recovered from the impact of industrial whaling in the 20th century.

"All whale populations are already under threat from issues like climate change, pollution, entanglement and habitat degradation. The last thing they need is a resumption of large scale whaling. With this move Japan might destroy all the progress that has been made internationally in order to protect and conserve the great whale species," Fuchs said.

The Swiss-based OceanCare marine wildlife protection group warned that the move might affect endangered minke whale species.

"You cannot visually differentiate a minke whale of an endangered stock from one more abundant when hunting them from a whaling ship. That is one reason why meat from whales of the endangered stock has been frequently found and identified on the market. Whale populations are not going to stand the pressure from commercial hunts. History has proven this, so why repeat those mistakes," Nicolas Entrup, Ocean Policy Expert at OceanCare, said as quoted in the organization's press release.

However, Captain Paul Watson, the head of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and long-time opponent of whale hunting, told Sputnik that Japan's announcement on resumption was a positive development since the country would not be able to hunt whales in the Southern Ocean as it did before as part of what it called scientific research.

"They have been doing this under this excuse of the scientific whaling which is sort of a loophole that the International Court of Justice has condemned. If they go with commercial whaling, they will not be able to return to the Southern Ocean, and our objective was to protect the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. So I see it as a good thing," Watson said.

"The International Whaling Commission will be able to go about its business without being blocked by Japan, so it would be able to get the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary," Watson said.

The activist stressed that the Sea Shepherd would continue to oppose whaling by Japan, but needed to see what the country's actions were going to be.

"We will see what Japan's moves are, if they are commercially whaling in the North Pacific we may be able to directly intervene once again. We just have to watch their movements and respond accordingly ... We have to look at it from the tactical point of view, if there is something we tactically can achieve. We are certainly opposed to what they are doing, but we have to develop a strategy in order to deal with it," Watson said.

Greenpeace also slammed the move, calling on the Japanese government to abandon plans for commercial whaling focusing instead on conservation of marine ecosystems.

"It's clear that the government is trying to sneak in this announcement at the end of year away from the spotlight of international media, but the world sees this for what it is. The declaration today is out of step with the international community, let alone the protection needed to safeguard the future of our oceans and these majestic creatures. The government of Japan must urgently act to conserve marine ecosystems, rather than resume commercial whaling," Sam Annesley, Executive Director at Greenpeace Japan, said in a statement.

Annesley stressed that as the G20 chair in 2019 Japan should "recommit to the IWC and prioritise new measures for marine conservation."

The Japanese government has stressed in its official position on the issue that if resumed Japan's commercial whaling would be conducted in a sustainable manner and would not affect endangered species.

"Stocks of certain whale species such as Minke whales are scientifically proven to be not endangered. The limited, sustainable use of such whale species does not pose any overall risk to stocks," the document, published on the website of the Japanese Embassy in New Zealand, read.

The government has also highlighted that its scientific whaling, which has been opposed by international community and ICJ, was necessary to pave way for sustainable commercial whaling based on research data.

"Through research whaling, the Japanese Government conducts continuous studies to accurately assess whale numbers and the state of their ecosystem. On the basis of the data collected, the Japanese Government makes concerted efforts to obtain the understanding of the anti-whaling nations by demonstrating scientific proof that commercial whaling of certain species would not have a negative effect on those species as a whole," the document read.

The Japan Whaling Association, a non-profit organization established with the aim of resumption of whaling, said that the international community's arguments against Japan's whaling tradition were unreasonable.

"Asking Japan to abandon this part of its culture would compare to Australians being asked to stop eating meat pies, Americans being asked to stop eating hamburgers and the English being asked to go without fish and chips. Attitudes toward animals are a part of national cultures. No nations should try to impose their attitudes on others," the organization wrote on its page.

In 2009, US documentary filmmaker Louie Psihoyos directed a movie dubbed "The Cove" which depicted dolphin hunting in Japan. The movie caused an international outcry and harsh criticism of dolphin and whale hunting practices in Japan and won the academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 2010. In 2015, filmmaker Keiko Yagi produced a documentary "Behind the Cove" in response to the Oscar-winning movie trying to show Japan's perspective on the issue as well as political bias around it.

Yagi told Sputnik that she supported Japan's the move and was surprised that it took the country so long to leave the organization.

"I was wondering why the Japanese government have not done it for such a long time, even though the [IWC] meeting was unfair [to Japan] ... I think that it is strange that countries that are not related to whaling are participating [in the IWC]. OPEC comprises oil-producing countries. Likewise, is it better if only whaling nations participated in the IWC?" Yagi said.

She also expressed her disappointment over particularly negative media coverage of dolphin and whale hunting in Japan, while such Western nations as Norway and Iceland commercially hunted whales in its territorial waters.

"This is definitely discrimination. The US government, be it the Republican or Democratic, does not say harsh things to Norway ... If Japan leaves the IWC it will become boring, will not it? The Japanese government is the largest contributor to the IWC. There will be less money and no one to bully. They will have nothing to do there," Yagi noted.

She also questioned the arguments against Japan's tradition of eating whale meat noting that it was no different from cultural traditions of other countries.

"I am wondering why you, guys, oppose eating whale meat, while you eat other animals such as rabbits? ... They say that whales are cute, but pigs are also cute - and people still eat them," Yagi said.

Atsushi Ishii, an associate professor at the Center for Northeast Asian Studies of the Tohoku University, told Sputnik that the Japanese government's year-long struggle to resume commercial was not particularly related to cultural traditions, but rather aspirations for sustainable use of offshore resources.

"This has nothing to do with food culture and traditions. Basically, it's a mix of the principle of sustainable resource utilization and standing strong against anti-whaling countries," Ishii said.

Yoshifumi Kai, the head of the Japan Small-Type Whaling Association, welcomed the move that his group had been demanding for three decades.

"We have been asking for this for 30 years. I truly appreciate that we were finally heard. I would like to further promote this food culture in the future," Kai said, as quoted by the NHK broadcaster.

He added that his group would suffer most if whale population decreased and therefore they would hunt no more whales than needed.

In 1946, the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW) was signed in Washington after extensive negotiations between 15 nations. In 1948, the ICW was set up as international body based on this document.

Japan joined the organization in 1951. Back then the organization comprised mostly whaling nations and focused on sustainable use of whales to prevent depletion of certain stocks, however, the views within the organization changed toward the conservation of whales as other, anti-whaling nations joined the IWC that now comprises 88 members.

In 1982, the IWC decided to introduce a moratorium on commercial whaling on all whale species starting the 1985/1986 season after some species were driven to extinction. Japan along with Norway, Peru and the Soviet Union lodged objections to the move, but faced pressure from the United States to comply with the moratorium and later withdrew them.

Norway and Iceland have been hunting whales commercially since 1994 and 2006 respectively, while Japan has been hunting whales since 1986 by invoking the scientific research provision in Article 8 of the ICRW allowing whaling for scientific purposes.

In March 2014, the International Court of Justice ordered Japan to suspend its scientific research whaling in the Antarctic Ocean, saying it violated the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling. However, Japan restarted its whaling activities with a lower catch quota.

On 13 September, 2018, IWC member states met in Brazil's Florianopolis to discuss Japan's proposals on gradual lifting the moratorium. However, Tokyo's bid failed as it was backed only by 27 votes, while 41 IWC member states voted against it.

According to the IWC data, Japan has caught between 200 and 1,200 whales each year since 1987.