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Monday, 8 February 2010

Useless Research Whaling Should be Abolished

Since Japan virtually gave up commercial whaling in 1988, it has caught 9,000 minke whales in the Antarctic Ocean in the name of scientific research whaling. The company that undertakes research whaling operations by providing vessels and crew receives 500 million yen ($5.38 million) a year in government subsidies via the Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR).

Re-search In view of the strained state of public finance, it stands to reason that research whaling be immediately abolished. Actually, however, for some unknown reason, it did not even become a target of review by the government task force for identifying wasteful state projects.

Apparently, this is because political parties and groups have formed associations of lawmakers who represent the interests of the whaling industry. Diet members formed such associations after they received plausible "explanations" by bureaucrats of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries over many years.

The Democratic Party of Japan's set of policies called "Index 2009" even mentions the resumption of commercial whaling.

As a member of a nongovernmental organization with an observer status to the International Whaling Commission, I have been watching IWC meetings. As far as I know, it would be no exaggeration to say discussions in Japan are solely based on information provided by the fisheries ministry and the ICR, which is affiliated with the ministry.

Results of Japan's research whaling up to 2005 have been reviewed by the IWC Scientific Committee. However, the majority opinion of the committee was that the research results lacked scientific findings that could provide the basis for a decision to resume sustainable use of whale stocks as stipulated by the committee. Most of the published papers contain findings that can be obtained without killing whales.

To begin with, the practice of catching as many as 400 to 500 whales a year started under a system to cover whaling expedition expenses with proceeds from the sale of whale meat. Japan's research whaling is based on Article 8 of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, which allows contracting nations to kill whales "for purposes of scientific research" at their discretion.

However, in Japan's method, the end and the means have been reversed from the beginning. That is why Japan is a target of criticism by foreign countries that argue Japan is actually doing "commercial whaling under the guise of scientific research."

Sales of whale meat amount to about 6 billion yen ($64.5 million) a year. In order to protect this small interest, the fisheries ministry continues to release information apparently aimed at stimulating patriotic sentiment.

The balance of power between pro- and anti-whaling forces within the IWC general meeting has remained more or less unchanged for a long time. Actually, this situation is favorable to all concerned parties.

Bureaucrats of the fisheries ministry can protect small interests, anti-whaling organizations, including the Sea Shepherd, can collect donations from around the world, and lawmakers of such countries as Japan and Australia get publicity once a year by showing on television how they are working to protect their national interests.

It is said that "eating whales is Japan's traditional culture." But this is a myth that was started through a PR company during the mid-1970s. Actually, whale meat does not sell well and there is surplus stock. If Japan proposes to the IWC to allow it to engage in coastal whaling in exchange for giving up research whaling, I expect the long-standing opposition to be immediately settled.

Currently, there is a growing trend for strengthening control over marine resources such as tuna on a global scale. Also in order not to raise questions over Japan's scientific data in international forums to discuss regulations on fishing of tuna and other fish, Japan should abolish research whaling as a government project.

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The author is a specially appointed professor of global environment policy at the Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology, University of Tokyo.



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