By Mike Gaworecki at Mongabay.com
For years, Japan exploited a loophole in international rules to continue hunting whales despite being a member of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) bound by the commercial whaling moratorium that went into effect in 1986.
The country has now quit the IWC altogether and resumed commercial whaling.
IWC members are allowed to issue whaling permits for scientific purposes. Of the nearly 18,000 fin, sperm, sei, Bryde’s, and minke whales that have been taken under these special permits since 1986, the vast majority were caught by Japan’s whaling fleet in Antarctic, Northwest Pacific, or Japanese waters. Japan’s whaling industry was known to frequently disregard the international commercial ban on whaling, selling the whale meat harvested in the name of scientific research in Japanese markets.
After the legitimacy of Japan’s whaling industry suffered a number of setbacks — including a 2014 ruling by the International Court of Justice that the country’s Antarctic hunts had no scientific basis, the 2015 rejection by the IWC of an amended proposal submitted by Japan for scientific research, and a 2018 finding that Japan had broken the rules of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) by taking sei whale meat from international waters — Japan left the IWC late last year and announced it would resume commercial whale hunting.
The first minke whale caught under the country’s new commercial whaling program was landed last week at Kushiro port in northern Japan, according to the Environmental Investigation Agency, a London-based NGO. Japan’s Fisheries Agency has set 2019 commercial catch quotas of 52 minke whales, 150 Bryde’s whales, and 25 sei whales.
“It’s a profoundly depressing spectacle to see the first victim of Japan’s first openly commercial whaling hunt in 30 years — landed for sale in restaurants and markets, despite an almost total lack of demand,” Juliet Phillips, an ocean campaigner with EIA who witnessed the landing of the minke whale firsthand, said in a statement. The whale hunt is targeting internationally protected species and is being carried out without the expert oversight of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) — the only international body with the mandate to manage whaling.”
The New York Times reports that there is reason to doubt that whaling will ultimately be a commercial success. The Japanese government is looking to reduce the $46 million in annual subsidies it supplies to prop up its whaling industry, but the appetite for whale meat, even in Japan, might not be able to sustain the hunts: “For the whaling industry to stand on its own two feet without government subsidies, it will have to find more lucrative markets for its product. But Japanese consumers’ interest in the meat has dwindled.”
IWC members Norway and Iceland are the only other countries on Earth that currently hunt whales commercially, which they do “either under objection to the moratorium decision, or under reservation to it,” according to the IWC. The countries therefore establish their own hunting quotas, but are required to provide information on their catches to the IWC. To date, more than 26,300 whales have been caught under objection or reservation. (Russia has also registered its objection to the moratorium, but so far does not hunt whales commercially under that objection.)
Iceland takes North Atlantic common minke whales and North Atlantic fin whales within the waters that make up its exclusive economic zone. But Iceland’s two whaling companies have announced that they’ll be sitting out the summer 2019 whaling season, meaning that, for the first time in 17 years, no whales will be caught in Iceland’s waters.
This is heartbreaking! Please spread the word on social media so Japan feels the heat. Consider donating to organizations like Sea Shepherd that working around the clock out at sea to protect our oceans and this incredible species. – Alicia
Top Photo by Thomas Kelley