Japan leaves whaling commission

Joining Norway and Iceland, Japan will again practice commercial hunting of minke whales

International Whaliing Commission

Photo: Oregon State University / Flickr
A tagged minke whale swims in Antarctic waters.

Pieter Wijnen
Norway Today

Japan has announced it will leave the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and resume commercial whaling.

The other two nations that harvest whales, Norway and Iceland, are still members of the IWC but have reserved themselves against the whaling commission’s 32-year-old ban on commercial whaling.

Norway sets an annual quota for minke whales, and in 2018 about 450 of a quota of 1,278 animals were caught. The quota for 2019 has not yet been set.

Japan’s decision to leave the IWC and resume commercial catching was expected, as the country’s attempt to persuade the other IWC countries to open up for such harvesting was rejected in September.

After the proposal was turned down, Japan’s Minister of Fisheries, Masaaki Taniai, threatened to leave the IWC, which the country now intends to do on June 30.

Solely in Japanese waters

Japan’s decision means that the country now resumes catching minke whales and other species that the IWC currently holds its protective hand over.

The catch will be limited to Japan’s territorial waters and exclusive economic zones. Japan will not be able to hunt whales in Antarctica or in the Southern Hemisphere.

No repercussions for Norway

Norwegian Minister of Fisheries Harald T. Nesvik (Progress Party) does not believe that Japan’s decision to resume commercial whaling will affect the Norwegian whaling industry.

“Norway has cooperated well with Japan in the IWC and in other international fora where the question of management of marine mammals comes up, and a normalization of the management of whales has been important for both Norway and Japan,” he says.

Japanese whale meat will also not oust Norwegian produce, Nesvik believes.

“Whale meat trade is regulated by an international convention (CITES), and only countries that have reservations to the ban on such trade can export and import meat between themselves. The fact that Japan leaves the IWC does not change this, and we will continue to work for easier access to the Japanese market for Norwegian whale meat,” the minister of fisheries continues.

Loophole

Up until now, Japan has exploited a loophole in the IWC’s regulations and operated so-called research catches in the Antarctic, accompanied by protests by Greenpeace and other environmentalists.

Critics believe the research catch is a sneak commercial catch, noting that the whale meat has ended up in the Japanese market.

When Japan leaves the IWC, the country cannot continue with this catch. IWC membership is a prerequisite for obtaining exemptions from the Antarctica Treaty, which prohibits all forms of whaling.

There are different views on whaling among IWC members. Japan’s proposal to open whale species not threatened with extinction for commercial catches was rejected 41 to 27.

Criticism

The strongest resistance comes from the United States, the EU, and Australia.

“Today’s announcement shows that Japan is out of step with the world community, nor does it realize that the future of our oceans and these majestic animals need protection,” the leader of Greenpeace’s Japanese branch, Sam Annesley says.

Australia also protests against Japan’s choice and asks the country to reverse the decision to leave the IWC. “Australia is and remains firmly against all forms of commercial catch and so-called research catch on whales,” Australian Minister for the Environment Melissa Price announces.

Also in Japan, which traditionally consumes a lot of whale meat, the view on catch varies, and consumption has declined sharply in recent decades. Many Japanese people now say that they rarely, if ever, eat whale meat.

This article originally appeared in the January 11, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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