Three dead minke whales lie on the deck of the Japanese whaling vessel Nisshin Maru in the Southern Ocean. Picture: Tim Watters, Sea Shepherd Australia/AP
Three dead minke whales lie on the deck of the Japanese whaling vessel Nisshin Maru in the Southern Ocean. Picture: Tim Watters, Sea Shepherd Australia/AP

Japan to start whaling again

JAPAN has announced it will resume commercial whaling next year and withdraw from the International Whaling Commission.

A government spokesman made the announcement on Wednesday in a move expected to spark international criticism.

The decision was made at a cabinet meeting on Tuesday after the government decided it would be difficult to resume commercial whaling while a member of the international body.

"We have decided to withdraw from the International Whaling Commission in order to resume commercial whaling in July next year," top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga told reporters.

Mr Suga said whaling would 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 said.

The decision will spell the end of Japan's whaling in the Southern Ocean that has seen its boats in clashes with anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd.

Sea Shepherd's the Bob Barker, left, and the fuel tanker Sun Laurel, right, of Japanese whaling vessel Nisshin Maru, collide in waters near Antarctica. Picture: The Institute of Cetacean Research/AP
Sea Shepherd's the Bob Barker, left, and the fuel tanker Sun Laurel, right, of Japanese whaling vessel Nisshin Maru, collide in waters near Antarctica. Picture: The Institute of Cetacean Research/AP

Ahead of the announcement the Australian Marine Conservation Society said Australians would be able to celebrate the end of whaling in the country's Southern Ocean but remained alarmed about the potential consequences of unregulated whaling by Japan elsewhere.

"Whales face a greater number of threats today that at any stage in their past," AMCS CEO Darren Kindleysides said.

"Climate change, entanglement in fishing nets, plastic pollution, underwater noise and ship strikes threaten our ocean giants. Our whales need countries to work together, not go it alone."

Greens leader Richard Di Natale described the move as "deeply disappointing" in a Twitter post.

Japan's announcement had been widely expected and comes after Japan failed in a bid earlier this year to convince the IWC to allow it to resume commercial whaling.

Japan has been frustrated that its efforts to restart commercial whaling of more abundant species like minke whales had been blocked by anti-whaling countries.

Japanese whaling ship Yushin Maru No. 3 shoots a water cannon at Sea Shepherd's inflatable boat in the Southern Ocean off Antarctica in 2011. Picture: Gary Stokes/Sea Shepherd/AP
Japanese whaling ship Yushin Maru No. 3 shoots a water cannon at Sea Shepherd's inflatable boat in the Southern Ocean off Antarctica in 2011. Picture: Gary Stokes/Sea Shepherd/AP

Japan's request for a resumption of commercial whaling was most recently denied at the IWC meeting in September. IWC imposed a moratorium on commercial whaling in the 1980s due to dwindling stocks.

Japan has since switched to what it calls research whaling, and says stocks have recovered enough that commercial hunts should resume.

Japanese officials have said the whaling organisation is supposed to pursue sustainability but has become an anti-whaling body. They criticise what they call the whaling commission's lack of tolerance of diverse views on whaling and its inability to resolve the long divide between conservationists and supporters of whale use.

Tokyo has repeatedly threatened to pull out of the body, and has been regularly criticised for catching hundreds of whales a year for "scientific research" despite being a signatory to a moratorium on hunting the animals. Opponents have criticised the program as a cover for commercial whaling because the whale meat was sold for food.

 

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

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.

The withdrawal means Japan joins Iceland and Norway in openly defying the IWC's ban on commercial whale hunting.

It is certain to infuriate conservationists and anti-whaling countries such as Australia and New Zealand, and deepen the divide between anti-and pro-whaling countries.

Japan has hunted whales for centuries, and their meat was a key source of protein in the immediate post-World War II years when the country was desperately poor.

But consumption has declined significantly in recent decades, with much of the population saying they rarely or never eat whale meat.

In Japan, reports about the expected move were met with a mixed reaction.

 

Three dead minke whales lie on the deck of the Japanese whaling vessel Nisshin Maru in the Southern Ocean. Picture: Tim Watters, Sea Shepherd Australia/AP
Three dead minke whales lie on the deck of the Japanese whaling vessel Nisshin Maru in the Southern Ocean. Picture: Tim Watters, Sea Shepherd Australia/AP

 

Former Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera, who currently serves as adviser to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's fisheries committee, said he supported a decision to withdraw from the IWC, in an interview with Japan's NHK television.

"I have attended IWC meetings several times in the past, and I was struck by their extremely biased views," he said. "IWC has become a dysfunctional organisation."

Ruling party members, many of whom support resuming commercial whaling as part of Japan's traditional food culture, said it's not helpful to stay in the IWC.

But Masayuki Komatsu, a former fisheries official who represented Japan at IWC, questioned if Japan gains anything from withdrawing.

"I doubt if a withdrawal improves the current situation," he told NHK.

Japan annually consumes about 5,000 tons of whale meat from the research hunts, mainly by the older generation who feel nostalgic about the meat.

But critics say they doubt if a country with an ageing and shrinking population can develop a sustainable whaling industry if it returns to commercial hunts. Many younger people don't see whales as food.

Japan cut back on its catch after a 2014 international court ruling.

Japan's Antarctic catch is now capped at 333 whales a year - about a third of the quota before a 2014 International Court of Justice ruling found that Japanese research whaling wasn't sufficiently scientific.


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