Japan to withdraw from International Whaling Commission

Arturo Kim
December 27, 2018

The move to resume commercial whaling drew criticism from conservation groups and governments.

Japan said it will pull out of the International Whaling Commission and resume commercial whaling in its territorial waters for the first time in more than 30 years.

Japanese whalers will be allowed to catch whales for commercial use in Japanese territorial waters and inside its economic zone, Japanese government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said, according to The Guardian.

The Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe approved a decision to leave the IWC, which manages whale resources, on December 25, and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga made the announcement.

A Japanese whaling ship leaves the port of Shimonoseki in Yamaguchi prefecture, western Japan to resume whale hunting in the Antarctic.

Japan is now conducting research whaling in the Northwestern Pacific and the Antarctic Ocean, but it must halt such activities in those waters once it withdraws from the IWC.

The withdrawal also means Japan joins Iceland and Norway in openly defying the IWC's ban on commercial whale hunting. The government said it would also stop hunting the ocean mammals in the Antarctic, in the latest chapter of the controversial practice, which has received global criticism.

The IWC was established in 1948 under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling to conserve whales and realise the "orderly development of the whaling industry". The country also says it will set limits on its hunts based on IWC estimates of populations.

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In September, Japan put forth a proposal to the IWC to allow commercial whaling operations to resume, but it was voted down 40-27.

That argument was rejected in 2014 by the International Court of Justice, which ruled that Japan's Antarctic hunt had no scientific basis. In 1987, Japan switched to what is calls research whaling, but the program has been criticized as a cover for commercial hunting since the meat is sold on the market at home.

"Their decision to withdraw is regrettable and Australia urges Japan to return", Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Environment Minister Melissa Price said in a joint statement.

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 worldwide organisations" for marine mammal conservation. "There was never anything scientific about harpooning a whale, cutting it up and putting it on a plate", Burke said.

Since then, Japan has repeatedly called for a resumption of commercial whaling of species whose numbers have recovered.

Japan will lose the right to conduct scientific research under the IWC without gaining any guaranteed rights to continue whaling, he said, potentially leaving itself open to legal challenge. If I were in a responsible government position, I wouldn't want to take such risks.

Nonetheless, Japanese lawmakers want to promote whales not only as a source of protein but as part of Japan's cultural tradition.

A statement by Japan's government said the IWC was not committed enough to one of its goals, of supporting sustainable commercial whaling.

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