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Japan has halted its whaling in the Antarctic Ocean for this season because of harassment by the Sea Shepherd antiwhaling group, fisheries minister Michihiko Kano said Friday.

The whaling had been slated to run until March.

It is the first time Japan’s so-called research whaling, which runs from fall to spring, has been suspended due to interference since the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society began to target the whalers in 2005.

The group’s harassment will likely continue.

“We’ve decided to wind up our research whaling to secure the safety of the crews and the boats,” Kano, agriculture, forestry and fisheries minister, told a news conference.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano expressed outrage over Sea Shepherd’s actions in a separate news conference.

“I cannot help but feel angry over the fact that the crew members’ safety was being compromised,” he said.

Edano stressed that Japan will not halt its research whaling next year. “We will not give in to such interference,” he said, adding he would like to see ministries and agencies work together to come up with thorough measures to ensure that research whaling is conducted without harm to the crew.

The increasing stockpile of whale meat in Japan is also said to be behind the decision to pull the whaling fleet out of the Antarctic Ocean.

The latest move will not affect Japan’s whaling in the Northwest Pacific, including coastal hunts, an official at the Fisheries Agency said.

Meanwhile, Japan lodged protests Friday with Australia and New Zealand, where Sea Shepherd ships make port calls, as well as the Netherlands, a flag state of its boat, asking them to take effective steps to prevent the group’s obstructive actions.

State Foreign Secretary Yutaka Banno summoned the ambassadors of the three countries and conveyed Tokyo’s “strong regret” over their failure to stop Sea Shepherd’s “violent actions” against the whaling fleet, Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara told a news conference.

Sea Shepherd chief Paul Watson called the hunt’s halt “a victory for the whales.”

The four-vessel whaling fleet, led by the 8,044-ton Nisshin Maru, left for the Antarctic on Dec. 2 and this season caught 170 minke whales against a quota of about 850 and two fin whales against a quota of around 50, both record lows.

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