Japan has announced that it is withdrawing from the International Whaling Commission next year and will break a moratorium to relaunch widespread commercial whaling operations for the first time in 30 years.
Japan plans to resume hunts in July of whale species with “healthy” populations in nearby waters, but no longer in the Antarctic Ocean, said a statement from the government’s top spokesman.
Greenpeace blasted Japan’s decision to pull out of the commission.
“The declaration is out of step with the international community, let alone the protection needed to safeguard the future of our oceans and these majestic creatures,” Sam Annesley, executive director of Greenpeace Japan, said in a statement.
“The world’s oceans face multiple threats, like acidification and plastic pollution, in addition to overfishing. As a country surrounded by oceans where people’s lives have been heavily reliant on marine resources, it is essential for Japan to work towards healthy oceans. Japan’s government has so far failed to resolve these problems.
The move appears to be another major decision by a nation prioritizing its own interests over international agreements, like President Donald Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. from the Paris climate change accords.
Australian Marine Conservation Society Chief Executive Officer Darren Kindleysides told The Wall Street Journal that whales “face a greater number of threats today than at any stage in their past. Climate change, entanglements 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.”
Japan had lobbied the IWC for years to be allowed to hunt more populous whale species, but it was consistently blocked by Australia and New Zealand. A move spearheaded by Japan to ease some decision-making rules was also voted down in September, The Japan Times reported.
But despite an IWC moratorium on commercial whaling, Japan has still killed several hundred whales each year through a loophole allowing “scientific” whaling expeditions in the Antarctic Ocean. Whale meat is still served in Japanese restaurants, according to the Journal. Once Japan leaves the IWC, it cannot continue any whaling in the Antarctic Ocean, according to The Japan Times.
Australia’s foreign minister and environment minister sharply attacked Japan’s decision to leave the commission, saying the government was “extremely disappointed,” The Sydney Morning Herald reported.
“Their decision to withdraw is regrettable and Australia urges Japan to return to the Convention and Commission as a matter of priority,” the ministers said in a statement.
“Australia remains resolutely opposed to all forms of commercial and so-called ‘scientific’ whaling. We will continue to work within the Commission to uphold the global moratorium on commercial whaling.”
The IWC began a moratorium on commercial whaling in 1982. A few years later, however, Japan began hunting whales in the Antarctic ostensibly for research purposes.