Just over a year ago, on June 30, 2019, Japan withdrew from the International Whaling Commission (IWC). A day later, on July 1, the country began commercial whaling in its coastal waters and exclusive economic zones (EEZ) for the first time in 31 years.
Issues remain, however, including generating more demand for whale meat and keeping the industry profitable.
While in the Japanese fiscal year through March 1966 the country consumed 200,000 tons of whale meat, consumption in the fiscal year through March 2018 was just 3,000 tons. Kiyoshi Ejima, a member of the Upper House of the National Diet and the deputy secretary general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s parliamentary group in support of whaling, spoke to The Sankei Shimbun and JAPAN Forward to reflect on the last year..
Ejima, who promoted Japan’s withdrawal from the IWC, represents Yamaguchi prefecture, where he was formerly the mayor of Shimonoseki City. The city is the home port of industrial whaling in Japan. His comments follow.
What kind of criticism did you hear, both domestic and foreign, on the decision to withdraw from the IWC?
The loudest criticism on withdrawal came from the Japanese media. They outlined every conceivable pessimistic scenario. “‘It will be like Japan’s withdrawal from the League of Nations before the war.” “We’ll become an orphan of the world.” “Japan will lose its voice on other fisheries resources.” “‘It could lead to stronger actions from Sea Shepherd (the U.S. NGO group).”
But nothing of this sort occurred. As of now, Japan has suffered no negative consequences from the withdrawal. (RELATED STORY: International Criticism Fades A Year Since Japan’s Withdrawal from the Whaling Commission)
How will Japan interact with the IWC in the future?
Japan doesn’t have the right to vote in the IWC, but will participate as an observer, with the right to make public comments.
We will continue to provide data from our scientific studies to the IWC Scientific Committee. Canada is also an observer, while Norway and Iceland rejoined the IWC after previously withdrawing.
However, as long as the IWC fails to become an organization that works to achieve its purposes of the “conservation” and “sustainable use” of whales, Japan will probably not rejoin. Japan feels that the IWC no longer exists, that it is no longer the international whaling commission, but has instead changed into an international whale conservation group. (RELATED STORY: INTERVIEW | Dr. Seiji Ohsumi on Sustainable Whaling as ‘Ideal Option’)
Aren’t there some issues with Japanese commercial whaling, such as the limited supply of whale meat and making the industry profitable?
It is a fact that the consumption of whale meat is less than what it was in the past. The shift to scientific whaling limited the amount of meat available, and unfortunately prices increased. Whale meat has become more expensive than all other kinds of meat and is treated like a delicacy.
But the whale meat available now (since withdrawal from the IWC) is really delicious, compared to the meat from scientific whaling, which is not bled out right away.
We need to strongly promote the great taste of whale meat. A system should be created to slightly increase the catches, and efforts should be made to popularize whale meat again as part of our food culture.
(Click here to read the interview in its original Japanese.)
Author: Takao Harakawa