Japan announced this week it will be splitting from the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in order to renew its commercial whaling practices. The announcement comes after years of Japan exploiting a loophole in IWC’s international moratorium on whale killings, and after the IWC declined to approve its bid for commercial whaling, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Wednesday in a statement that the withdrawal would go into effect June 30, 2019, with whaling resuming within its waters and its exclusive economic zone thereafter in July, according to Reuters. Suga said that Japan’s whaling “will be conducted in accordance with international law and within the catch limits calculated in accordance with the method adopted by the IWC to avoid negative impact on cetacean resources.”
The move marks a significant break from Japan’s shift away from commercial whaling for more than 30 years. However, as the Journal noted, a loophole in IWC’s agreement allowed Japan to slaughter hundreds of whales annually under the guise of it serving scientific research.
Japan’s Fisheries Agency has defended its troubling interpretation of the international whaling moratorium by claiming that the purpose of its so-called research was “to carry out a detailed calculation of the catch limit of minke whales and study the structure and dynamics of the ecological system in the Antarctic Ocean.” It’s a claim that has long been understood to be bullshit, and whale meat is widely available across Japan. Per the Associated Press:
Fisheries officials have said Japan annually consumes thousands of tons of whale meat from the research hunts, mainly by older Japanese seeking a nostalgic meal. It’s a fraction of the country’s whale meat supply of about 200,000 tons before the IWC moratorium.
The announcement has received widespread condemnation by the scientific community and activists. Astrid Fuchs of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation outfit slammed the decision, telling the BBC that the move could “set a precedent” for other countries to do the same. Little oversight of Japan’s whaling practices, Fuchs added, could “spell doom for some populations.”
The Fisheries Agency will catch Bryde’s, minke, and sei whales, according to the Associated Press, with the agency citing adequate stock numbers. But Fuchs said that the population of minke whales near Japan is already threatened, and Sam Annesley, the executive director at Greenpeace Japan, raised concerns about the commercial whaling of sei whales, among others.
“As a result of modern fleet technology, overfishing in both Japanese coastal waters and high seas areas has led to the depletion of many whale species,” Annesley said in a statement. “Most whale populations have not yet been recovered, including larger whales such as blue whales, fin whales and sei whales.”
Annesley said Japan’s announcement “is out of step with the international community, let alone the protection needed to safeguard the future of our oceans and these majestic creatures.”