Japan is set to leave the International Whaling Commission (IWC) to resume commercial whaling; in a move likely to draw international criticism. Japan has repeatedly tried to soften the IWC approach to whaling, Japan’s most recent failure to do so was when the IWC refused to draw up sustainable whaling quotas in Brazil in September. Japan has been a member of the IWC since 1951. It was only in 1986 that the IWC banned commercial whaling after many species of whale were almost driven to extinction.
Japan has claimed that whaling is an important cultural tradition in Japan and that it will only allow sustainable commercial whaling, and only within Japans’ territorial waters, but conservationists worry that the whaling industry would not be policed properly and that ships may start fishing illegally outside of Japans’ waters. Conservationists are also worried given Japan’s history with whaling. Despite commercial whaling being banned since 1986 the Japanese government has turned a blind eye to the large scale “scientific research” whaling that has taken place with the meat ending up on food markets and on Japanese shop shelves.
In 2014, the International Court of Justice stated that there was no scientific case for Japan’s “lethal research.” For a year Japan stopped, before sending a smaller whaling fleet to the Antarctic. Conservationists say that Japans’ shady history in this industry means that it cannot be trusted to police its own whaling and that this will lead to over-fishing. Japan claims that it wants to hunt whales such as Minke whales which are not endangered but are currently protected by the IWC. The danger is that if Minke whales can be hunted it makes it much more likely that either intentionally, or unintentionally that other types of whales – even critically endangered ones – may be killed and sold. So far international reaction has been that of shock and overwhelmingly negative with Australia, one of Japans’ closest partners saying it is “extremely disappointed.”