National

Japan nears catch quota for minke whales as hunt resumes off Hokkaido

Kyodo

Japanese whaling ships on Monday resumed hunting minke whales in coastal areas off Hokkaido, and are likely to reach their catch quota later this month.

Since restarting commercial whaling in July for the first time in 31 years, the government has set a catch quota of 53 minke whales through late December to prevent over-hunting, with 33 of them allocated for coastal whaling.

The Japan Small-Type Whaling Association estimates that this year’s hunting of minke whales in Japan’s coastal areas could wrap up at the end of September.

Early on Monday, five small whaling vessels operated by six companies departed Kushiro port in Hokkaido. It was their second expedition from the area after operating for around one week following the restart of Japan’s commercial whaling on July 1, upon the country’s withdrawal from the International Whaling Commission.

“We’d like to catch many whales and have consumers eat fresh meat,” said Takashi Takeuchi, the 41-year-old captain of a whaling vessel from Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture.

“September is the best season, when whales with plenty of fat are caught. I’m looking forward to the hunt,” said Yoshifumi Kai, 59, head of the whaling association.

After initial operations in waters off Kushiro in July, the fleet had moved to catch Berardius whales off Minamiboso in Chiba Prefecture and elsewhere before its return to Hokkaido.

For offshore operations based in Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi Prefecture, the catch of Bryde’s whales reached the initial quota of 150 in late August, and the Fisheries Agency added 37 whales to the quota. The whaling operators are expected to finish hunting in early October.

As an IWC member, Japan halted commercial whaling in 1988 but continued to hunt whales for what it called research purposes — a practice criticized internationally as a cover for commercial whaling.

Having resumed commercial whaling, Tokyo says it will hunt whales in nearby waters and within its exclusive economic zone.