The government announced Friday it will continue seasonal “research whaling” in both the Northwest Pacific and the Antarctic Ocean but reduce the catch, after the International Court of Justice in The Hague ordered Japan to stop whaling in the Antarctic.
Japan is expected to begin this year’s whaling in the Northwest Pacific later than planned on April 26. The Pacific whaling is not subject to the ICJ’s March 31 ruling.
In an effort to get the international ban on commercial whaling lifted, Japan plans to continue collecting scientific data, including on whale populations, in the Northwest Pacific, while trying to minimize criticism from anti-whaling nations.
The ICJ ruling forced Japan to give up its annual hunt in the Antarctic Ocean later this year by declaring its “research” whaling to be unscientific in nature. Japan conducts such whaling in the Northwest Pacific every spring.
The whaling fleet’s departure for the Northwest Pacific has been delayed to April 26 instead of Tuesday amid a tussle between the Foreign Ministry and the Fisheries Agency.
The Foreign Ministry was concerned that if Japan begins whaling in the Northwest Pacific immediately after the ICJ order, anti-whaling countries may sue to halt hunts there as well.
The Fisheries Agency insisted that whaling in the Northwest Pacific should continue, but at a reduced target catch of 60 whales.
A fleet for catching minke whales off Japanese coastal waters leaves Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, every April as part of the so-called research whaling program in the Northwest Pacific.
Some members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party said the delay was a side effect of U.S. President Barack Obama’s planned three-day visit to Japan starting Wednesday, because the United States opposes whaling.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, Shunichi Suzuki, head of a group of LDP lawmakers who favor whaling, and other politicians have urged the government to continue research whaling.
Ayukawa Hogei Co., which engages in traditional coastal whaling in northern Japan and also takes part in the research hunt, welcomed the decision.
“If the research program is discontinued, our company will no doubt go bankrupt this year,” Minoru Ito, president of firm in the tsunami-hit city of Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, said by telephone.
The company has been catching Baird’s beaked whales — a species not covered by the moratorium — in coastal waters since the U.N. ruling, as well as taking part in the research program to hunt Minke whales off Ishinomaki from April to June.
The ban threatened to choke the port of Ayukawa in Ishinomaki, which has depended on whaling since the mid-19th century.
But Ito said: “We can survive if the program continues while we are recovering from the (2011 tsunami) disaster with borrowed money and government help.”