The Lower House committee on agriculture and fisheries unanimously approved a resolution Wednesday to demand that the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe continue to allow the country to hunt whales.
Doing so would be in defiance of the International Court of Justice, which ruled at the end of March that Japan’s whale hunt off Antarctica is not scientific, and therefore in violation of an international moratorium.
The resolution reflects deep dissatisfaction among lawmakers across parties with the verdict by the highest U.N. court in The Hague. The court ruled Japan was in violation of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling by engaging in commercial, and not scientific, hunts, as prohibited by international law.
Japan said it would abide by the decision and has already decided to halt its 2014-2015 hunt. However, it could be resumed under a new program, by possibly reducing the size of the catch. Since 2007, Japan has sought to hunt up to 1,035 whales, a number the ICJ found to be excessive and not scientifically justifiable.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga is scheduled to meet with Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi on Friday to decide on whether to reduce the whaling program’s catch.
Whaling groups have already indicated they intend to fight for the program’s restart. Papers filed last week in a Seattle court by the Institute for Cetacean Research and Kyodo Senpaku, which carries out the whale hunts, said the two organizations expect to resume the hunts.
Japan is also scheduled to send whaling ships to the North Pacific next Tuesday as the verdict only applies to the hunt off Antarctica. But government officials fear similar litigation might be filed against the whale hunt in that area, too.
In the meantime, lawmakers across party lines Tuesday held the 26th annual whale-meat cuisine event to celebrate the country’s whaling culture. Organizers said the event proved to be more popular than before, attracting some 600 people, up 50 percent from the previous year.
“Even though the (ICJ) verdict was regrettable, I would like to emphasize that we will not change our position that we will continue to take maritime protein,” said fisheries minister Hayashi at the event, implying that Japan will protect its whaling culture.
Japan has claimed its hunts are purely for scientific research, which is permitted under international regulations, in order to gather data to analyze the impact of whales on Japan’s fishing industry and study the natural habitat of whales.
“Japan’s whaling is based on scientific reasons, while counterarguments by anti-whaling groups are emotional, saying they are against the hunts because whales are cute or smart,” said Shunichi Suzuki, a Lower House member of the Liberal Democratic Party.
Whale meat is not widely popular among Japanese, who consume on average just 40 grams of it a year. But whale meat sellers and restaurants catering the event said they’ve seen an uptick in business since the ICJ verdict.
“Our customers are worried that they will no longer be able to have whale cuisine,” said Mutsuko Onishi, president of Osaka-based whale eatery Tokuya. Onishi said her restaurant has seen a 30 percent increase in customers since the ICJ ruling.