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Japan’s official in charge of whaling issues is optimistic that the prowhaling contingent will continue to make inroads at the International Whaling Commission talks in progress in Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi Prefecture.

Joji Morishita, deputy director of the Fisheries Agency’s Far Seas Fisheries Division, hopes the IWC’s 54th annual gathering, held in a traditional whaling town, will entice more countries to side with Japan.

“This meeting is a good chance for us to get our message across,” said Morishita, a senior member of Japan’s negotiating team.

The team’s message is that under a strictly regulated plan, whaling can be conducted in a sustainable fashion. The plan, known as the Revised Management Procedure, has been endorsed by the IWC but not yet enacted.

Under the RMP, decided upon in 1994, whales can be taken once numbers return to a predetermined amount — around 60 percent — of original stock estimates, and even then only a fraction of the population can be killed.

“The RMP is so conservative that if it were applied to other fish, like tuna, the catch would be set at zero,” according to Morishita, who recently published “Naze Kujira wa Zasho Suru no ka?” (“Why do Whales Run Aground?”).

In his book, Morishita backs the government line that excessive protection of some whales has allowed them to rebound to such an extent that they are now consuming between 3.5 and 6 times the annual fish catch by humans.

Approved in 1982 and implemented in the 1986 whaling season, the IWC whaling moratorium has plagued the Fisheries Agency and Japan’s whaling industry.

“In 1982, most countries were antiwhaling,” Morishita said. “But in the last two or three years, new country members have joined (the IWC) and others have changed their stances. Now the balance has really gotten close.”

The balance last year was the closest it has been in recent years, according to Morishita.

“The number of countries supporting the sustainable use of whales is increasing,” he said. “It is our goal to see that it continues in Shimonoseki.”

Morishita attributes the changing attitude to heightened interest in fish stocks and in the ramifications of a jump in whale populations.

Japan is expecting to draw flak for its plan to extend the scope of its research whaling program this year by adding 50 coastal minke and 50 sei whales to its catch, as well as up to 440 minke in the Antarctic and 150 in the North Pacific, along with 50 Bryde’s whales and 10 sperm whales.

According to Japan, such research is indispensable in determining the quantities of what type of sea life these cetaceans are eating, as well as their population dynamics.

Although the number of countries sympathetic to Japan’s plight is slowly rising, Morishita does not expect the balance to tip in Japan’s favor this year.

A simple majority can pass nonbinding resolutions, such as that censuring Japan for its annual take of whales under its research program.

However, to alter the Schedule to the Convention — the international rule book for whaling — a move required to repeal the moratorium, allow an interim catch of whales or establish a whaling sanctuary, the support of 75 percent of IWC members is required.

As in recent years, a formula and framework for sustainable whaling will be near the top of the IWC agenda.

Commercial whaling is not to resume until IWC members agree on a whaling management system, officially known as the Revised Management Scheme.

Debate has foundered on how to ensure nations will comply with targets set under the RMS.

Nonwhaling nations want whaling nations to foot the bill for monitoring and whaling inspectors, with some hoping that the IWC will oversee whale meat markets. Some of this is anathema to Japan, which sees these details as delaying tactics tantamount to moving the goal posts.

But there are many issues and Japan appears in no rush.

“The next step is gaining a simple majority,” Morishita said. “We have been trying for 20 years so we are not in that much of a hurry.”

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