Japan's Christmas treat could be a whale of a feast

Pat Wise
December 24, 2018

It is said to be intending to leave the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and resume commercial whale hunting.

And if Japan did resume commercial whaling without an global management structure in place, it could face another embarrassment as in 2014. IWC imposed a moratorium on commercial whaling in the 1980s due to dwindling stocks.

Kyodo News Agency carried similar reports on Thursday, but Japanese government officials denied the country will leave the IWC by the end of the year.

The country now plans to resume commercial whaling in seas around Japan and within its exclusive economic zones, but will exclude species facing extinction from its catch. They criticize what they call the whaling commission's lack of tolerance of diverse views on whaling and its inability to resolve the long divide between conservationists and supporters of whale use.

"No decision has yet been made on what course we take", Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at his December 20 news conference when asked about reports that Japan was preparing to leave the IWC.

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After a tense September vote in Brazil, the IWC rejected Japan's bid to return to commercial whaling, prompting vice-minister for fisheries Masaaki Taniai to say Tokyo would be "pressed to undertake a fundamental reassessment of its position as a member of the IWC".

But Masayuki Komatsu, a former fisheries official who represented Japan at IWC, questioned if Japan gains anything from withdrawing.

Abe's electoral power base is Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi Prefecture, a city known as a major whaling base, and ruling Liberal Democratic Party heavyweight Toshihiro Nikai is from Wakayama Prefecture, where Japan's traditional whaling techniques originated. "If whalers spend a huge sum of money to travel all the way to Antarctica to go whaling, they need to catch a lot and sell it off, but demand for whale meat is declining".

A male resident of the town said, "There are people who have always been waiting for a return of our old practice of giving captured whale (meat) to neighbors".

If Japan leaves the IWC, it would be unable to continue research whaling in the Pacific and Antarctic oceans under its current framework. "Although there are concerns this might have a negative impact on the preservation of some species, the government should take control and decide details such as how many whales can be caught", Kai said.

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