Japan has officially declared it will withdraw from the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and will resume commercial whaling in July next year.
Commercial whaling has been banned by the IWC, a global agreement signed by over 80 nations, since 1986. However, a number of pro-whaling countries – such as Japan, Russia, Denmark, and Iceland – have continually shown opposition to the ban.
Japan, in particular, has regularly defied the ban and continued whaling activities under the guise of “scientific research”. The latest figures from the IWC showed that Japan slaughtered 333 whales, 120 of which were pregnant, in Antarctic waters during the December to February 2017/2018 season.
In an announcement on Wednesday, the Japanese government officially declared its withdrawal from the IWC, claiming that whale stocks have recovered back to healthy levels. It also noted that whale meat is part of a centuries-old tradition for many coastal communities in Japan, despite many reports noting that Japanese consumers have lost their taste for whale meat. The hunts will be carried out in Japan’s own territory and exclusive economic zone in their Pacific waters. Technically, it will still not be allowed to carry out commercial whaling in Antarctic waters due to the Antarctic Treaty, which prohibits any economic activity in the area.
Understandably, conservationists are not happy with the decision. Greenpeace has accused Japan of being “sneaky” by attempting to slip in the declaration towards the end of the year around the holiday period, hoping the controversial move won’t pick up too much attention from the wider world.
“It’s clear that the government is trying to sneak in this announcement at the end of the year away from the spotlight of international media, but the world sees this for what it is,” Sam Annesley, Executive Director of Greenpeace Japan, said in a statement.
“The declaration today is out of step with the international community, let alone the protection needed to safeguard the future of our oceans and these majestic creatures,” he added.
“As a result of modern fleet technology, overfishing in both Japanese coastal waters and high seas areas has led to the depletion of many whale species. Most whale populations have not yet been recovered, including larger whales such as blue whales, fin whales and sei whales.”
The decision has already received political backlash from the international community too. The Australian government, a frequent critic of Japan’s whaling activity, also released a statement condemning the withdrawal, saying they are “extremely disappointed.”
“The International Whaling Commission plays a crucial role in international cooperation on whale conservation,” Australia’s foreign minister, Marise Payne, and environment minister, Melissa Price, wrote in a joint statement.
“Their decision to withdraw is regrettable and Australia urges Japan to return to the Convention and Commission as a matter of priority.”
Japan says it will also continue to cooperate with the IWC as an "observer".