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Japan Cuts Whaling Harvest Quota

Humpback Whale Fluke in Antarctic Waters

Japan will reduce whaling harvest to 1/3 current level.

Japan’s whale hunting quota will be cut by over half its current level in the 2015 season, according to an announcement Tuesday, Nov. 18. Officials say the policy change is a response to the long-standing criticism of the country’s whaling industry. Japan is one of only a small number of countries that has continued to permit commercial whaling since the International Whaling Commission (IWC) issued a 1982 moratorium on commercial harvest.

“We will explain the new plan sincerely so as to gain understanding from each country,” said fisheries minister Koya Nishikawa.

Insincerity has been a charge frequently leveled by critics against Japan’s whaling industry. Most modern-day commercial whaling is permitted by the IWC as scientific whaling, with countries including Norway, Japan, and Russia claiming the exemption. The meat from scientific whaling operations can legally be sold to markets and restaurants, and critics say it creates an easily exploited loophole that whaling countries have used to harvest far more whales than is required for scientific study.

The international court of justice agrees. In March the court ruled 12-4 against Japan in a suit brought by Australia and New Zealand, who argued that Japan’s scientific program was a pretext for a commercial whaling operation. Japan’s immediate response was to cancel the remainder of the 2014 whaling season. Japan’s quota prior to the ruling was 900. The new target will be 333.

For many though, the cut isn’t good enough. In September Japan denied a non-binding vote by the IWC demanding that Japan’s scientific whaling program be submitted to an IWC scientific panel for review. The ruling also would have extended the moratorium imposed in the wake of the the international court’s March ruling.

Japan has been reticent about its reasons for continuing commitment to whaling operations, even as consumer interest in whale meat declines and its economic advantages evaporate—whale meat was once a cheap alternative to beef, but the price is now comparable. Some observers speculate that Japan fears that backing down may encourage international bodies to interfere with their other, more vital fisheries.

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Japan Cuts Whaling Harvest Quota