Japan announces IWC withdrawal, will resume commercial whaling

Katie Ramirez
December 26, 2018

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said on Wednesday that Tokyo chose to pull out from the International Whaling Commission (IWC) starting in 2019 to resume commercial whaling in July after a 30-year pause, local media reported.

Despite the 1986 IWC moratorium on commercial whaling to protect whale populations from extinction, Japan nevertheless kills an estimated 450 whales annually. "We will not hunt in the Antarctic waters or in the southern hemisphere", Suga added.

Yoshihide Suga, a government spokesman, made the announcement at a press briefing in Tokyo today.

Tokyo suspended its hunt for one season to re-tool its whaling programme with measures such as cutting the number of whales and species targeted, but resumed hunting in the 2015-2016 season.

Japan now uses a scientific exemption to kill hundreds of whales a year, but critics have condemned it as a cover for commercial whaling, noting that meat from the annual hunt often ends up being sold.

Whale hunting has become a rare thorny subject in Japan's otherwise largely amiable foreign policy, with worldwide opposition only prompting conservatives to dig in deeper in support of the tradition.

Japan began scientific whaling in 1987, a year after an worldwide whaling moratorium began.

"At the IWC meeting held in September, it became clear again that a standpoint of sustainable utilization of whales is incompatible with a standpoint of protecting them", Suga said.

Leaving the IWC means Japanese whalers will be able to resume hunting in Japanese coastal waters of minke and other whales now protected by the IWC.

The withdrawal from the IWC may be a face-saving step to stop Japan's ambitious Antarctic hunts and scale down the scope of whaling to around the Japanese coasts.

Kate Middleton dresses up for Christmas Day with the royal family
The Duchess of Cambridge , Kate Middleton , at Sandringham for the Christmas Day service a year ago . But judging by the latest outing, maybe it's all tabloid twaddle of the British variety.

But Japan will not be able to continue the so-called scientific research hunts in the Antarctic that has been exceptionally allowed as an IWC member under the Antarctic Treaty.

Despite the fact that Japan officially refrained from whaling for about 30 years, whale meat from time to time could be found in the country's supermarkets and restaurants.

Some lawmakers in the Liberal Democratic Party, headed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, stress the need to preserve local whaling traditions, but it is unclear whether demand will increase even if commercial whaling resumes. Japan was the only country with an ambition to return to commercial whaling in the Antarctic Ocean.

Tokyo has long argued that most whale species are not endangered and that eating whale is a part of its culture.

But the bid failed, with strong opposition from anti-whaling nations - led by Australia, the European Union and the US.

"There have been no concessions from countries who only place importance on the protection of whales", Suga said.

Activist groups slammed the decision, with Greenpeace calling it a "sneaky" announcement.

Sam Annesley, executive director at Greenpeace Japan, decried the IWC withdrawal.

It makes no secret however of the fact that meat from the expeditions ends up on dinner tables.

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