Japan: Whale Hunt To Go On Even If Plan Rejected
Author: Elaine Lies
Japan abandoned commercial whaling in 1986 in line with an international moratorium and began the programme to hunt whales in what it called scientific research whaling the next year.
The meat ends up on store shelves and on the tables of gourmet restaurants, and environmental groups say it is commercial whaling in disguise.
Tokyo maintains that eating whale, regarded as a gourmet delicacy, is an important part of its cultural heritage despite protests by environmentalists determined to prevent the killing of the marine mammals, some species of which are endangered.
On Thursday, the country's five-ship whaling fleet returned to port after an Antarctic hunt that began last November and yielded 440 minke whales, concluding the programme.
"The research programme has been truly successful in having produced valuable information on the Antarctic ecosystem which will provide the basis for improving future research and comprehensive management of Antarctic marine resources," said Hiroshi Hatanaka, director general of the Institute of Cetacean Research, in a statement.
To obtain approval for its next research plan, the government will submit a proposal to the International Whaling Commission (IWC) at its annual meeting in Ulsan, South Korea, this June.
However, Japanese officials said they would continue to whale even if the IWC, which has become increasingly split between pro- and anti-whaling camps, rejected their plan, details of which cannot be made public until June.
"Fundamentally, according to the international convention that established the IWC, any country that is part of it has the right to carry out whaling," said Hideki Moronoki, an official with the whaling division of Japan's Fisheries Agency.
"We intend to appeal for the legitimacy of our research."
Japan blames whales for declining fish catches, saying the mammoth mammals consume such vast quantities of fish that they have contributed to a huge drop in fish landings.
It supports protection of endangered species but argues that others, such as the minke, are numerous enough to be hunted within limits.
Japan and other pro-whaling nations have become increasingly frustrated by what they see as a growing anti-whaling slant to the IWC's annual meetings, especially after the 2004 meeting ended with a small but significant victory for countries that want to maintain the whaling ban.
Tokyo has even threatened to pull out of the IWC if a system to monitor whale catches and ensure nations stick to their catch quotas under a return to large-scale whaling is not passed this year, a scheme that could spell an end to the whaling ban.
Moronuki said it was unlikely that an IWC rejection of Japan's programme proposal alone would cause Tokyo to leave the organisation.
"But ruling party lawmakers have said that quitting the IWC remains an option, and if things get really bad against whaling that card could always be used," he added.