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Wädenswil, 26th December 2018. It is official. In a press conference today, the Japanese government confirmed that it is going to resume commercial whaling with effect from 1st July 2019, as their membership to the IWC will officially end 30th June. Commercial whaling will take place within the Exclusive Economic Zone up to 200 nautical miles offshore. Japan will cease its so-called scientific whaling programme in the Antarctic. It is assumed that the second „scientific whaling programme“ in the Northwest Pacific will stop too. With Japan leaving the IWC and its resumption of commercial whaling, whales in the North Pacific will be at risk. Based on media reports, according to government officials, Japan intends to continue participating at the Meetings of the IWC as an observer country.

The international marine conservation organisation OceanCare, an observer to the IWC proceedings since 1992, condemns the decision by the Japanese government. It makes the increasing nationalistic tendencies which are undermining collaborative efforts within international fora accountable for this situation. “Short-sighted and short-term positions and pure national populism is now threatening international achievements, such as the global ban on commercial whaling, which has taken years of negotiations and efforts by the public and governments”, criticises Fabienne McLellan, Director International Relations at OceanCare.

„We need a clear commitment towards the protection of species and the oceans. One can only hope that Japan’s decision brings the international community even closer together by reacting strongly against these isolating tendencies”, McLellan adds.

OceanCare also calls the claim by Japanese officials that any sustainable whaling quotas will be based on the catch calculation model (RMP) of the IWC as misleading. First, the RMP is not in operational effect, as there is a ban on commercial whaling in place. Second, the two nations already undertaking commercial whaling – Iceland and Norway – use variations of the RMP which result in higher catch quota than when using the calculation model accepted by the IWC. Thirdly, the RMP has been developed for baleen whale species, but it is almost certain that Japan is going to allow commercial hunts also targeting toothed whale species, including beaked whales.

„We will lose a minke whale population and likely others”

OceanCare is concerned about the impact of commercial driven hunts on regional whale populations. While some of the species, such as the minke whales in the North West Pacific, is claimed by Japanese officials to be abundant, they appear in complex social structures and in different populations. At least one of the minke whale stocks in the Northwest Pacific is endangered. “You cannot visually differentiate a minke whale of an endangered stock from one more abundant when hunting them from a whaling ship. That is one reason why meat from whales of the endangered stock has been frequently found and identified on the market. Whale populations are not going to stand the pressure from commercial hunts. History has proven this, so why repeat those mistakes” questions Nicolas Entrup, Ocean Policy Expert at OceanCare.

Background information

The International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW) was negotiated by 15 countries in 1946 and entered in force in 1948. Today there are 89 member states to the International Whaling Commission, the body which executes the convention. In 1982, after decades of intensive industrial whaling, the IWC decided to ban commercial whaling. This so-called moratorium, probably the greatest achievement in international species conservation, entered into force in 1986, saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of whales, but is to date not accepted by Norway, Iceland, and Russia.

Japan’s special permit whaling

Article VIII of the Convention on the Regulation of Whaling, drawn up in the 1940s, allows states to grant special permits for the hunting of whales for scientific purposes. This research should aim at contributing to the survival of whale species.  Japan runs two special permit whaling programmes: one – NEWREP-A – targets minke whales in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, the other – NEWREP-NP – minke whales and sei whales in the Northwest Pacific Ocean. Since its inception in 1987, Japan’s fishing fleet has killed more than 17,000 large whales under special permit. Nevertheless, Japan’s “scientific” whaling has produced few to no publications in peer-reviewed journals. Japan’s scientific whaling has been repeatedly criticised and condemned by scientists, governments, the International Court of Justice and the IWC itself.

Rejection of “A Way Forward” reform package

The 67th Conference of Parties to the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in Florianopolis, Brazil, in September 2018, saw the long-awaited debate on the package of proposals that Japan had tabled under the title “A way forward”. This controversial initiative was intended to undermine the moratorium on whaling, which has existed for more than 30 years, and to gradually allow commercial whaling again. The member states clearly rejected Japan’s proposal by 41 votes to 27. The Japanese initiative was a repeated attempt to legalise commercial whaling.