Japan’s so-called research whaling program faces an uncertain future

JIJI, Kyodo

The nation’s so-called research whaling program faces an increasingly bleak future amid growing international opposition, declining consumption of whale meat and a deficit in the program’s finances.

The government said Tuesday it will reduce the number of whales to be culled in the Antarctic Ocean to one-third of the previous target, setting the stage to resume catches under the banner of science in defiance of a ruling by the International Court of Justice.

The ICJ ordered Japan in March to end its research whaling in the Antarctic Ocean, upholding a case lodged by Australia.

Japan suffered an additional blow when the International Whaling Commission endorsed a resolution proposed by New Zealand at its general assembly in Slovenia in September to change procedures for allowing whaling for scientific research.

Under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, a country is allowed to catch whales for scientific reasons after submitting a whaling plan to the IWC Scientific Committee and after listening to the panel’s opinion.

The proposal by New Zealand calls for deliberations on such plans by the commission’s general assembly.

Japan suspended its annual scientific whaling program in the Antarctic for fiscal 2014 after the U.N. court’s ruling but intends to resume it in fiscal 2015 under a new plan, which is expected to limit hunting to minke whales.

The new plan would end the killing of fin whales and humpbacks. Tokyo previously maintained an annual target of 50 of each.

Australia and other anti-whaling countries, which dominate the IWC, are urging Japan to comply with the resolution.

Japanese whaling industry officials are worried that refusing to comply with the ICJ will give anti-whaling activists cause to continue using dangerous tactics at sea to obstruct or damage whaling vessels.

Japan’s research whaling has government approval and is conducted by the Institute of Cetacean Research, using ships of Kyodo Senpaku Co.

The program’s expenses are supposed to be met by revenues from the sale of whale meat, but in practice it is financed by government subsidies.

Under the current subsidy system, the institute receives ¥4.5 billion from the government in advance. Revenues from meat sales pay off the loan, but currently amount to just over half the full amount, according to industry officials.

Whale meat was consumed in large amounts in postwar Japan when the nation suffered widespread food shortages. More recently, however, Japanese consumers have been eating 4,000 to 5,000 tons of whale meat a year — representing only 2 percent of peak consumption.

Since the IWC general assembly in September, newspapers have increasingly been questioning the future of research whaling.

Japan must now address whether it should continue research whaling or shift to coastal whale harvesting, which is outside the IWC’s jurisdiction in locations such as Abashiri, Hokkaido, the Ayukawa district of Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, and the town of Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture.