Japan announced its withdrawal today from the International Whaling Commission (IWC), with plans to resume commercial whaling next year.
With its withdrawal from the regulatory body, Japan ends its controversial scientific whaling program, which had occurred annually under commission oversight.
Japan's fleet is currently hunting minke whales, but Tokyo indicated that it would be that nation's final Antarctic whale hunt.
The IWC is among the world's oldest international institutions, formed a few short years after the founding of the United Nations in 1945. Japan joined the London-based organization in 1951.
The government says it will leave as a formal member by July 2019 but will remain an observer to the global body. While today's announcement makes it official, Japanese media reported on the move last week (Greenwire, 20 December).
In a Japanese language announcement posted by the office of the prime minister's cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, the government says its decision was made based on sound scientific reasoning and in the interest of "sustainable use of marine resources."
"By withdrawing, our nation's thinking in terms of cooperation with international marine resources management does not change," Suga said. "We will participate in the IWC as an observer, and while maintaining ties to international organizations our nation will keep contributing to whale resources management based on scientific principles."
The decision comes after Japan threatened to leave the IWC earlier this year. Tokyo has made similar threats before, but the Japanese delegation to the IWC hinted at the forthcoming withdrawal in the strongest language yet at the closing in September of the IWC's formal meeting in Brazil (Greenwire, 14 September).
The governments of New Zealand and Australia expressed relief that the Southern Ocean whaling campaign would end but urged Japan to continue on as a full IWC member.
Conservation groups reacted angrily to Tokyo's decision. Japan's departure will deal a stiff financial blow to the IWC as that nation is the second largest contributor to the international whaling regulator, after the United States.
"This snub to multilateralism is unacceptable and deeply concerning," Greenpeace Australia campaigner Nathaniel Pelle said in a release. "This is a grave mistake and Greenpeace urges Japan to reconsider its decision."
An IWC-Japan divorce is the culmination of a wide ideological divide at the commission between ardent anti-whaling nations and countries seeking recognition of limited commercial whaling activities as legitimate. The anti-whaling forces have the upper hand, even though IWC's expansion has seen more pro-whaling countries joining in recent years.
At the Brazil gathering, Japan had attempted to nudge the IWC toward reforms that would have potentially paved the way for a resumption of commercial whaling. The IWC was initially established to regulate whaling but has enforced an outright moratorium on commercial whaling operations since the 1980s in a desperate bid to prevent the extinction of several whale species. Many whale species have since recovered to a degree, but a few are still considered endangered.
Japan's reform push was easily voted down.
Instead, a majority of IWC members voted to have the commission turn its back on commercial whaling for good. That successful resolution also condemned Japan's scientific whaling practices, widely regarded as a clandestine commercial operation as Japan's whaling fleet takes hundreds of whales each year, with the meat ending up in grocery stores and restaurants.
IWC also approved subsistence whale hunts for Arctic aboriginal communities.
The large Japanese delegation at Brazil didn't hide its frustration. The government accuses IWC members of hypocrisy for allowing culture exemptions from the moratorium for Alaskan and Russian native groups, but not for Japan and Scandinavian whaling cultures.
Reprinted from Greenwire with permission from E&E News. Copyright 2018. E&E provides essential news for energy and environment professionals at www.eenews.net.