Japanese officials have announced they plan to seek approval by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) to partially resume commercial whaling.
Officials argue their proposal only covers whale species deemed to be at sustainable population levels and "will propose setting a catch quota for species whose stocks are recognized as healthy by the IWC scientific committee," Hideki Moronuki, an official in charge of whaling at Japan's fisheries agency, told Agence France-Presse. The proposal, to be presented at a meeting this September in Brazil, does not specify which type or how many whales are intended for the hunt but that several populations are no longer considered depleted.
Proposed changes also include measures to change the IWC’s decision-making process to a simple majority when it comes to setting catch quotas, rather than three-quarters, citing current dysfunction and a desire to build more cooperation.
Tokyo has regularly sought the IWC to ease its moratorium on commercial whaling and for decades have continued killing whales under a “scientific research” loophole not only in Japanese waters but the high seas as well (even though the Antarctic Sea is an internationally designated sanctuary for whales). The nation claims research is necessary to prove whale populations are sustainable enough to reopen commercial hunting.
Earlier this year, the IWC noted Japan had fulfilled its annual quota of 333 harvested whales in Antarctic waters, sparking international outrage when it was revealed that more than one-third of those were pregnant.
Since commercial whaling was banned in 1986, nearly 32,000 whales have been killed by whaling. Japan launched its scientific whaling program the following year. While Japan hunts whales under the guise of “science”, Iceland and Norway openly object the moratorium and have since continued commercial hunting.
Commercial whaling played a vital role in rejuvenating the Japanese economy in the years following the Second World War. At the time, whale meat was heavily consumed, but today it rarely winds up on the dinner plate. According to an opinion poll of nearly 1,800 voters, only 14 percent of Japanese people eat whale meat, while uneaten frozen stockpiles of meat have doubled to 4,600 tons between 2002 and 2012.
So, why are officials pushing to resume commercial whaling? Political scientist Keiko Hirata suggests Japan – normally cooperative in global affairs – continues to hunt whales because of cultural and political reasons. In Japanese culture, she says, whales are seen more akin to a fish than a charismatic mammal. Furthermore, whaling efforts are overseen by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries – a department that has faced little domestic pressure to end its whaling program.