Sea Shepherd hurt hunt, Japan urged audit: cables

by Eric Johnston

OSAKA — Japan admitted to the United States that actions by the activist group Sea Shepherd had curtailed its annual whale hunt but opposed Washington’s efforts to have it politically engage fellow whaling nation Iceland to reduce its catch, WikiLeaks cables revealed Monday.

Negotiations between Japan and the U.S. over Sea Shepherd and the future of the International Whaling Commission in November 2009 and last January were the subjects of the first U.S. diplomatic cables from the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo released by WikiLeaks.

The Tokyo cables and a separate cable from the U.S. State Department show that in early November 2009, less than two weeks before a summit between then Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and U.S. President Barack Obama, the U.S. met Foreign Ministry officials to request political engagement from Japan on reaching a compromise within the IWC.

The U.S., which hoped the issue would be raised at the bilateral summit, said it would agree to support international approval of sustainable small-scale coastal whaling activities off Japan in exchange for Tokyo reducing its current whaling targets and halting its hunt for fin and humpback whales in the Southern Ocean.

No public mention on whaling issues was made at the Nov. 13 summit between Hatoyama and Obama.

The following January, the cables show the U.S. urged Foreign Ministry and Fisheries Agency officials to press Iceland to lower its proposed whale catch in order to reach a new IWC agreement.

But saying whaling had not been a domestic political issue and expressing a desire to keep it that way, Foreign Ministry officials replied that while it may not be possible to resolve the whaling issue without taking it to the political level, doing so could create a backlash against the ruling Democratic Party of Japan.

In a separate meeting, Fisheries Agency officials rejected U.S. pressure for it to get Iceland to lower its whale hunt quota. U.S. officials said Iceland’s proposed catch of fin whales was predicated on exporting to Japan but added that the total supply exceeded Japanese market demand.

The agency replied that trade measures against Iceland were not appropriate and said both the U.S. and Japan needed to come up with other measures. The June 2010 IWC meeting did not reach a compromise on the issue.

The Fisheries Agency is also quoted in the cables as admitting Sea Shepherd’s actions against Japanese whaling ships in the Southern Ocean had prevented the fleet from reaching its catch target, and that the Japanese government could face political pressure if Sea Shepherd continued to harass the whalers.

In November 2009, the agency pressured the U.S. to look into Sea Shepherd’s tax status, saying it would be easier for Japan to make progress in IWC negotiations if the U.S. took action against Sea Shepherd.