Will Japan return to commercial whaling?

Posted by On 7:06 PM

Will Japan return to commercial whaling?

The Economist explainsWill Japan return to commercial whaling?

It believes that some whales’ populations are healthy enough to permit it

The Economist explains

THREE decades after a global moratorium ended commercial whaling, Japan is again threatening to withdraw from the organisation that oversees it. Japan’s government says the International Whaling Commission (IWC) long ago abandoned its original purpose of managing whale stocks, which allows hunting within the limits that science deems justifiable, and is now a conservation body. “There are certain species of whales whose population is healthy enough to be harvested sustainably,” argued the Japanese delegation to the IWC’s annual meeting in Florianópolis, Brazil, last month. The rejection of that argument prompted Masaaki Taniai, Japan’s fisheries minister, to warn darkly that he would have to consider “every available option”.

A handful of whaling nations have tirelessly lobbied to reverse the 1986 moratorium, which the environmental movement counts as one of its most important victories. Japan relies heavily on the sea for food and insists it has the right to sustainably hunt everything in it. Britain and the rest of the anti-whaling camp reject that on conservationist and humane grounds. Both sides assiduously court supporters at the IWC, but neither can score the knockout blow (either an overturning of the moratorium or Japan’s confirmation that it will never return to commercial whaling) that would give them victory. In the meantime, Japan controversially skirts the ban to pursue “scientific whaling” (the 1946 international convention that regulates whaling includes a clause permitting them to be killed for scientific purposes). That allows a small num ber of whales to be culled every year, some of which end up on the plates of diners in high-end Tokyo restaurants.

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In 2014 the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the world’s highest court, upended this uneasy stalemate when it concluded that Japan’s whaling is not scientific at all. The ruling was widely expected to drive a harpoon through the heart of the annual Southern Ocean hunt. Instead, Japan declared it would no longer accept any ruling by the Hague court over marine resources. It has since a nnounced a scaled-down hunt, ignoring suggestions that declaring itself unbound by international agreements it dislikes could backfire (some said China and South Korea might apply the same logic in their bitter territorial disputes with Japan). Further controversy followed earlier this year when Japan revealed that the 333 minke whales killed during its latest winter cull included 122 pregnant females. Then came the IWC spat.

Japan could follow Iceland and Norway, which opted out of the global moratorium and continue to hunt whales for profit. But walking away from the IWC would have consequences. It would, for one, further alienate diplomatic allies, including Australia, which took Japan to the ICJ. It would also force Japan to create new regional whaling structures. That would force it to end what at the moment is mainly harmless if noisy annual grandstanding at the IWC and explain to taxpayers why it continues to push for the revival of a dying industry. Outside of a handfu l of coastal towns, whale meat in Japan is not popular. Yet the whaling programme has cost at least $400m in subsidies since 1988, according to one study. Security for protecting the whaling fleet from militant conservationists has pushed up the price tag for each Antarctic expedition. Rather than debate whether this is good value for money, the Japanese media has settled into a more familiar but entertaining narrative of defending whaling against Western “culinary imperialism”. That seems unlikely to end.

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