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by Suvendrini Kakuchi

Ban On Commercial Whale Hunting At Risk (2001)

(IPS) TOKYO -- A closely contested vote on June 18 that gave whaling countries led by Japan, an edge over opponents has been hailed here as a landmark in turning the tide against an international ban and boosting the domestic fisheries industry.

"The new vote in the International Whaling Commission (IWC) provides an important lesson for the world. At last, more people are willing to accept the fact that whales are an important fisheries resource rather than sacred mammals that must be protected forever," said Mitsuyoshi Murakami, spokesman for the public-funded Japan Whaling Association

The IWC meeting in Frigate Bay, St. Kitts, passed a pro-whaling declaration that was backed by 33 to 32 votes but does not threaten the two-decade-old moratorium. It is seen in Japan as an important step towards overturning the ban that needs 75 percent of the votes of IWC's 70 members .

"The ecology of these enormous animals is deeply interrelated to the maintenance of other marine products," wrote the 'Nikkei, Japan's leading business newspaper Tuesday, in support of the Japanese government's argument that swelling number of whales, as a result of the moratorium, has led to the depletion of other fish stocks.

Conservationists, however, say they are gearing up to fight back. Sato Junichi, whaling expert at Greenpeace Japan, explains the voting sends a starkly different message to what is being touted by the government and exposed attempts by Japan to canvass pro-whaling votes unscrupuloulsy.

''We suspect intense vote-buying by Japan from smaller and poorer countries with no whaling interests. Against this backdrop it is obvious the new declaration does not symbolise real international support or for that matter even among the Japanese public for a resumption of whaling," he said.

Greenpeace has released a new survey that showed more than 70 percent of the more than 1,000 people polled were not interested in eating whale meat, a statement that works against Japan's intense whale meat product advertising these days.

Indeed, pro-whaling votes came from countries like Mongolia that is landlocked. Supporting the declaration were IWC members such as Cambodia and several African countries that receive large amounts of Japanese aid.

Still, there is no denying the latest IWC move has hardened the Japanese stance. Analysts say the breakthrough has helped Japan's confidence in its persistent lobbying strategy, providing a boost to bureaucrats who have argued that whaling is a Japanese tradition.

Japan has long observed the IWC whaling ban while taking advantage of a loophole that permitted it to conduct 'scientific whaling,' in contrast to Norway, another whaling country, that refused to comply.

''Our scientific whaling program has played a crucial role in gaining the support we needed by showing that whaling populations are increasing," insisted Murakami.

Murakami also said discussions are underway for Japan to host the IWC meeting in Tokyo next year. ''The next meeting will be a base for a serious discussion on developing a whaling program as a food resource that would help island countries including Japan protect its fisheries industry," he said.

Independent researchers say Japan's strong pro-whaling stance can be linked to the country's highly lucrative fishing industry, especially its blue-fin tuna imports that now face a threat from conservationists.

''Japan is the worlds top consumer of blue-fin, a trade that is linked to the depletion of its stocks. A breakthrough in commercial whaling sets an effective precedent for Japan if there is an international attempt to limit its tuna catches," said Takeo Kawamichi, biologist at the Kansai Wild Life Research Association, a non-profit organization.

Blue-fin tuna imports now touch almost 300,000 tons annually, compared to 160,000 tons among domestic catches that have dipped steadily during past decade.

Kawamichi has called on the IWC to develop and support an independent international whaling research program that could provide concrete data on whale populations that could be a base for making future decisions on whaling.

But that request does not seem to figure in Japan's future plans for whaling. The Yomiuri newspaper, Japan's largest daily, argued in its Tuesday edition that even small fish such as mackerel costs around ten dollars per fish because of whale appetites.

The influential paper called the anti-whaling position taken by conservationists and the West 'unhealthy' and suggested IWC to open negotiations so that commercial whaling could be resumed as soon as possible.

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Albion Monitor   June 19, 2006   (

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