Back to the whale hunt for Japan

Decision to re-start Antarctic kill for ‘scientific research’ goes against recent International Court of Justice ruling.

A supporter of Japan's whaling programme eats a slice of whale meat at a tasting event in Tokyo in April [AP]

Tokyo, Japan Six months after acceding to an International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling to stop catching and killing Antarctic whales, Japan said it plans to resume hunting the creatures for scientific research in 2015.

Tokyo announced its intentions at the end of an International Whaling Commission (IWC) conference held in Portoroz, Slovenia from September 15-18. The news frustrated anti-whaling supporters and conference members from Australia and the United Kingdom, who had moments earlier helped pass a New Zealand-backed resolution to tighten the screening process for scientific research whaling – a move intended to delay Japan’s resumption until 2016.

“I was disappointed [with Japan’s announcement] but not surprised,” said Scott Baker, a professor and associate director of Oregon State University’s Marine Mammal Institute. “Subverting the ruling of the ICJ seems in keeping with Japan’s long history of subverting the majority resolution of the IWC.”

In Japan, during a press conference on September 19, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the IWC resolution “has no legal binding effect”, adding it “is not within the understanding we have [of the ruling]. So it is quite regrettable the resolution was adopted”.

Suga then confirmed that, “based on the International Court’s decision, we will prepare to conduct whaling for scientific purposes starting in 2015″.

Legal wrangling

The ICJ press release on its decision said that “JARPA II” – Japan’s Whale Research Programme under Special Permit in the Antarctic – involves activities that can broadly be characterised as scientific research, but “the evidence does not establish that the programme’s design and implementation are reasonable in relation to achieving its stated objectives”.

The Convention ... is for the regulation of whaling. It's not an international convention for prohibiting whaling.

- Hideki Moronuki, senior negotiator for Japan's Fisheries Agency

Accordingly, the ICJ concluded the special permits granted by Japan for the killing, taking and treating of whales in connection with JARPA II are not “for purposes of scientific research” pursuant to Article VIII, Paragraph 1, of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling.

In other words, while Japan’s killing of Antarctic whales involves scientific research, the ICJ ruled the programme is not carried out to achieve its scientific objectives. The ruling does not apply to JARPN II, Japan’s other research whaling programme in the northwestern Pacific.

Japan said it is aggrieved by the ICJ’s decision. “Our research activities under JARPA II was purely for scientific research,” Hideki Moronuki, a senior negotiator for Japan’s Fisheries Agency, told Al Jazeera.

“But because of the sabotage efforts of Sea Shepherd [Conservation Society], we couldn’t achieve all our research activities, and unfortunately, the court didn’t [properly consider] this point.”

High seas confrontation

Sea Shepherd is a controversial US-based group that uses direct action to protect whales and other marine life. For years, Sea Shepherd has deployed vessels to harrass Japanese whaling ships in the Antarctic, sometimes leading to violent confrontation on the high seas. 

“Sea Shepherd groups will continue to be the unofficial enforcement arm of the IWC’s Moratorium on Commercial Whaling, and is prepared to intercept, obstruct and shut down the Japanese whaling fleet, should whaling proceed commercially under the bogus pretense of science,” the group announced during September’s International Whaling Commission conference. 

According to Fisheries Agency data, Japan caught 853 minke whales at the start of its JARPA II programme in 2005. That number dropped steadily as Sea Shepherd began disrupting the whaling fleet’s work. In 2010, for instance, the number of minke whales caught by Japan plummeted to 170.

Consequently, Japan is trying to redesign the programme in order to recommence its Antarctic research whaling and meet the requirements of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling referred to in the judgement.

[Japan’s Institute of Cetacean Research] 

As Japan points out, the Convention – first signed by 15 countries in 1946 – states that its purpose is “to provide for the proper conservation of whale stocks and thus make possible the orderly development of the whaling industry”.

“The Convention, under which IWC was established, is for the regulation of whaling,” Moronuki stressed. “It’s not an international convention for prohibiting whaling or for regulating whale watching.”

In order to help conserve whale populations, Moronuki noted, Article VIII of the Convention allows the killing of whales for scientific research, the data from which is to be used by all members to properly manage the resumption of commercial whaling.

“So Japan is conducting research activities in order to achieve that particular objective of the convention,” said Moronuki. “We are carrying out research whaling to collect scientific information in order to resume properly managed commercial whaling.”

A matter of principle

But critics say otherwise. John Frizell, a senior oceans campaigner for Greenpeace, told Al Jazeera Japan’s interpretation of the Convention is outdated. “The whaling industry has changed since 1946,” said Frizell. “In 2007, the IWC recognised non-lethal use of whales as a legitimate management strategy.”

Ending Antarctic whaling would not affect the limited food culture that now exists, because Japan catches whales within its own waters.

- John Frizell, Greenpeace

As far as Japan is concerned, the row over whaling is a matter of principle. Japan plans to conduct research whaling within the bounds of Article VIII until it is able to convince a 75-percent majority of IWC members that properly managed commercial whaling can start again.

That is going to be a hard sell, given that 49 of the current 88 IWC countries count themselves in the anti-whaling court – while 39, including Japan, support whaling.

In response to widespread international condemnation of its stance, the Japanese government points out that archaeological and historical evidence shows Japan has been whaling for thousands of years. And the Japan Whaling Association’s website highlights that “whaling in western countries was conducted to collect whale oil”, while “whaling in Japan was mainly carried out for the production of meat“. 

Given the cultural significance, and what Japan says it needs for food security in the face of a growing world population, the government argues it has every right to uphold what it says are traditional values.

But Greenpeace’s Frizell arguesd in reality, Japan’s whaling culture “was restricted to a few prefectures and was never a widespread food culture in old Japan. Ending Antarctic whaling would not affect the limited food culture that now exists, because Japan catches whales within its own waters.”

Declining whale consumption

Moronuki acknowledged there has been a steep decline in whale meat consumption, especially among young people. But he blamed this on the IWC moratorium on commercial whaling starting in 1986-87, which restricted the availability of whale meat to Japan’s two whale research programmes.

Japan has blasted its opponents’ arguments as “the propaganda of well-funded conservation groups”.

Moronuki said critics of whaling regularly claim, “the whale is threatened with extinction”. But, he said, there is no “the whale”. Instead, there are many species: about 80, according to the Japan Whaling Association, only a few of which have been traditionally hunted. And the several that were over-hunted – none of which became extinct – are now protected.

Moronuki added for people who do not follow the issue closely, “they can easily believe Japan is trying to kill the endangered whale. This is not the case”.

As the Japan Whaling Association put it: “Asking Japan to abandon [its whaling] culture would compare to Australians being asked to stop eating meat pies, Americans being asked to stop eating hamburgers, and the English being asked to go without fish and chips.”

But with neither side about to change its stance, the standoff looks set to continue.

Source: Al Jazeera

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