Japan is withdrawing from the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and will resume commercial whaling next year, a government spokesman has announced.
The move on Wednesday came more than three months after the global body for the conservation of whales rejected a Tokyo-led proposal to lift a 32-year ban on the commercial hunting of the ocean mammals.
“We have decided to withdraw from the International Whaling Commission in order to resume commercial whaling in July next year,” Yoshihide Suga, top spokesperson for the Japanese government, told reporters.
Suda said commercial whaling “will be limited to Japan’s territorial waters and exclusive economic zones.”
“We will not hunt in the Antarctic waters or in the southern hemisphere,” he added.
The announcement drew criticism from anti-whaling groups., activists and governments, with Australia saying it was “extremely disappointed” and New Zealand regretting the resumption of the “outdated and unnecessary” commercial killing of whales
Tokyo’s move was widely expected as it had said it would undertake a “fundamental reassessment” of its IWC membership following the September vote, which guaranteed the body’s 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling will continue.
Japan has defied international protests to conduct what it calls “scientific research whaling”, having repeatedly said its ultimate goal is to whale commercially again.
In 2014, the International Court of Justice ordered it to halt its whaling programme in the Southern Ocean, also called the Antarctic Ocean, after determining that the hunting permits granted by authorities were not being used “for purposes of scientific research”.
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. It caps its Antarctic catch with a quota of 333 whales annually.
The Japanese government, which began scientific whaling in 1987, a year after the international whaling moratorium was introduced, has long maintained that most whale species are not endangered – six of the world’s 13 “great whale species” are classified as endangered, according to the World Wildlife Fund.
Japan is also stressing that eating whale is part of its culture. Whale meat ends up on store shelves, even though most Japanese no longer eat it. Whale consumption accounted for 0.1 percent of all Japanese meat consumption, according to the Asahi newspaper.
Japanese media said that Japan could no longer take advantage of the IWC exemption for scientific whaling if it withdrew from the group because the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas requires its signatories, including Japan, to work through “the appropriate international organisations” for marine mammal conservation.
Japan has also continued to hunt smaller species of whales that are not covered by the IWC in its coastal waters.