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The Diet on Friday approved a revision to the Wildlife Protection and Hunting Law that will reduce the level of lead shot used in certain hunting areas and give it jurisdiction over a limited number of sea mammals for the first time.

The revision introduces a system that permits prefectural governors to limit the use of lead ammunition in hunting areas, especially around lakes and ponds where birds are prone to mistake the shot for pebbles they eat to aid digestion. Swans are especially susceptible to this type of lead poisoning, Environment Ministry officials said.

The altered law will take effect April 1.

The revision has been applauded as a landmark because it is the first aimed at maintaining the nation’s biodiversity, but critics slammed it during Diet deliberations because it will not be extended to cover endangered sea mammals such as the Steller’s sea lion, which inhabits waters off Hokkaido.

The law will allow the Environment Ministry to work with the Fisheries Agency to protect dugongs, five types of seal and subspecies of the Californian sea lion.

It will not, however, include certain pests, any cetaceans or the Steller’s sea lion, which is listed in the Environment Ministry’s Red Data Book as threatened but not in that published by the Fisheries Agency, which uses older criteria, said Shinichi Hayama, an assistant professor at Nippon Veterinary and Animal Science University in Tokyo.

“If this law is really about securing biodiversity, then all animals should be subject to it, but some will not be and this is contradictory,” said Hayama, who was asked to comment in the Diet on the bill.

“The Fisheries Agency has essentially told (the Environment Ministry) to keep its hands off certain animals and this does not make sense,” he added.

The number of Steller’s sea lions has dropped from 20,000 to around 5,000 in waters off Japan, with only 500 or so of these coming from Russia.

Hayama said. The government allows 116 to be culled annually.

The revision was undertaken to bring it into line with a government decision to remove the law banning disabled people from obtaining hunting licenses.

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