Japanese Antarctic whaling hunt canceled following ruling by ICJ
By Shingo Ito, AFP
April 4, 2014, 12:10 am TWN
TOKYO -- Japan said Thursday it was canceling its annual Antarctic whaling hunt for the first time in more than a quarter of a century in line with a U.N. court ruling that the program was a commercial activity disguised as science.
A "deeply disappointed" Tokyo earlier this week said it would honor Monday's judgment by the United Nations' Hague-based International Court of Justice but did not exclude the possibility of future whaling programs.
On Thursday, officials said the next Antarctic hunt, which would have started in late 2014, had been scrapped, just weeks after the most recent one finished.
"We have decided to cancel research whaling (in the Antarctic) for the fiscal year starting in April because of the recent ruling," a fisheries agency official told AFP.
But he added that "we plan to go ahead with research whaling in other areas as scheduled," including the northern Pacific. Japan also has a coastal whaling program that is not covered by a commercial whaling ban.
Australia, backed by New Zealand, hauled Japan before the ICJ in 2010 in a bid to end the annual Southern Ocean hunt.
Tokyo has used a legal loophole in the 1986 ban on commercial whaling that allowed it to continue slaughtering the mammals, ostensibly so it could gather scientific data.
However, it has never made a secret of the fact that the whale meat from these hunts can end up on dining tables.
Public consumption of whale meat in Japan has steadily and significantly fallen in recent years and there is little support for whaling itself
But aggressive anti-whaling campaigns hardened sentiment among the Japanese public, who came to see the issue as an attack on differing cultural values.
"I think everyone knew all along that research was a fig leaf to disguise commercial whaling," said Jeffrey Kingston, an Asian studies professor at Temple University in Tokyo.
"But the Japanese government erred in thinking that this loophole...provided a legal basis for continued whaling as long as it asserted that it was for research. It did not anticipate that the research argument would be exposed as a sham."
Japan had argued that its JARPA II research program was aimed at studying the viability of whale hunting, but the ICJ found it had failed to examine ways of doing the research without killing whales, or at least while killing fewer of them.
"Whale meat is an important source of food, and the government's position to use it based on scientific facts has not changed," Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi told a press conference Tuesday in response to the judgment.
On Wednesday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said his government would abide by the court ruling, but added that the ruling was "a pity and I am deeply disappointed."
Some legal experts have suggested Japan might simply redesign its whaling program to skirt the ICJ ruling, but Australia and New Zealand are expected to keep up the diplomatic pressure to ensure Tokyo abides by the spirit of the pronouncement.
However, Shohei Yonemoto, visiting professor on global environment and bioethics at the University of Tokyo, said the ruling would provide Tokyo with a convenient way of getting out of a money-losing and controversial business.
"Japan should not miss this opportunity to use the ruling as an excuse to fully review its whaling program without losing its face," he told AFP.
Hisayoshi Mitsuda, professor of environmental sociology at Bukkyo University in Kyoto, added: "Financially, whaling doesn't pay — it's a decaying industry."