Nation’s whaling program up against the wall


Beset from all sides, the whaling industry is standing at a crossroads after losing a case filed by Australia at a United Nations court seeking an end to Japan’s whaling in the Antarctic Ocean.

The ruling by the International Court of Justice in late March has forced Japan to review a whaling program it claims is conducted for “scientific research.”

Although the Fisheries Agency plans to continue the program after scaling it back, Japan is expected to come under stronger pressure from anti-whaling nations at an annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission in September.

Following a moratorium imposed by the International Whaling Commission on commercial whaling in 1982, Japan has continued to hunt the mammals by claiming that its operations are carried out in the interests of scientific research, such as collecting data on whale populations.

But the United States and other anti-whaling nations are keen to impose a ban on whaling regardless of the purpose. In May 2010, Australia filed a complaint with the Hague-based ICJ against Japan’s whaling program in the Antarctic Ocean, claiming that it was effectively the same as commercial whaling due to the fact the meat from whales taken as samples is sold in restaurants.

Japan insisted that Article 8 of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling permits the selling of whale meat.

But the ICJ concluded that the country’s whaling in the Antarctic is “not for purposes of scientific research” due in part to the large chasm between the number of sample whales Japan plans to catch and the actual catch numbers.

In the case of minke whales, for example, Japan has caught fewer than 300 annually in recent years despite a target of up to 935. Despite blaming this discrepancy on the sabotage activities of the Sea Shepherd anti-whaling group, the country failed to win the ICJ’s support for continued operations.

As a result, the ICJ called on the Japanese government to take its ruling into consideration when deciding whether to permit a separate whaling program to be conducted in the northwestern Pacific. Tokyo thus faces mounting pressure to review its whaling policy as a whole.

So far, the hunting target for the northwestern Pacific in 2014 has been cut to 210 from 380, and Japan has said it will count the number of whales in the Antarctic visually, without catching them. This change takes the ICJ ruling into account “to the maximum possible extent,” said Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi.

The Fisheries Agency is preparing to work out new research plans for the Antarctic and northwestern Pacific by autumn 2014 and resume whaling operations for scientific purposes in the Antarctic in 2015.

While the country is eager to resume commercial whaling, the ICJ ruling may encourage anti-whaling nations — which account for a majority of members in the IWC — to step up calls for an end to so-called research whaling, as well as commercial hunting.

Consumption of whale meat in Japan dropped to 4,600 tons in 2012, down around 35 percent from a recent peak in 2006, while inventories have increased to 4,700 tons.