Tokyo, Japan: The Japanese Government has confirmed it will restart commercial whaling in July, exiting the International Whaling Commission (IWC).
It will stop its so-called scientific whaling in the Antarctic Ocean, and only fish in seas near Japan and the country’s exclusive economic zone.
Japan has long been fed up with the deadlock at the IWC, with pro- and anti-whaling nations unable to agree on a way forward for the organisation.
Japan’s request for a resumption of commercial whaling was most recently denied at an IWC meeting in September.
Japan will not be able to continue research whaling in Antarctic waters, because countries that do so are required by the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW) to join the IWC.
“From July 2019, after the withdrawal comes into effect on June 30, Japan will conduct commercial whaling within Japan’s territorial sea and its exclusive economic zone, and will cease the take of whales in the Antarctic Ocean/the Southern Hemisphere,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said.
“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 ICRW, refused to agree to take any tangible steps towards reaching a common position that would ensure the sustainable management of whale resources.”
Mr Suga said that the ICRW – which details the orderly development of the whaling industry – was not taken into account at the IWC’s most recent meeting.
“Quite regrettably, it unveiled the fact that it is not possible in the IWC even to seek the coexistence of states with different views,” he said.
“Consequently, Japan has been led to make its decision.”
Mr Suga said Japan would continue to engage with the IWC as an observer. “Whaling will be conducted in accordance with international law and within the catch limits calculated in accordance with the method adopted by the IWC,” he said.
But the Australian ministers said Canberra “remains resolutely opposed to all forms of commercial and so-called scientific whaling. We will continue to work within the commission to uphold the global moratorium on commercial whaling”.
Australia, also an IWC member, said it was “extremely disappointed” at Japan’s decision to resume commercial whaling. “[Japan’s] decision to withdraw is regrettable and Australia urges Japan to return to the convention and commission as a matter of priority,” said Marise Payne, foreign minister and Melissa Price, environment minister, in a joint statement.
Australia, the US and the EU are part of an anti-whaling coalition that opposes Japan at the IWC. “It is not possible in the IWC even to seek the coexistence of states with different views,” said Mr Suga. “Consequently, Japan has been led to make its decision.”
While consumer demand for whale meat in Japan has plummeted and most of the catch from research hunts ends up in government stockpiles, the issue is totemic for nationalists and crucial to certain fishing villages represented by powerful members of the ruling Liberal Democratic party.
The new policy means Japan will no longer subsidise research hunts in the Antarctic with its ageing long-distance whaling fleet. Hunting in Japan’s own waters, instead of the Southern Ocean, might also lower tension with Australia and New Zealand.
“If Japan leaving the IWC spells the end of their Southern Ocean whaling that would be a win for our whales,” said Darren Kindleysides, chief executive of the Australian Marine Conservation Society. “However, it would be a bittersweet victory if it comes with unchecked commercial whaling by Japan in its own waters, and leaving could damage the future of the IWC itself.”
A restart to whaling is not legally straightforward for Japan because it will still be bound by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which mandates international co-operation for managing whales.
Norway and Iceland, which both catch whales in defiance of the IWC moratorium, founded the North Atlantic Marine Mammal Commission as an alternative management body. Japan may need to persuade its neighbours to join a similar body to comply with the law.