Japanese officials have announced that their country will resume commercial whaling next year, in defiance of a 1986 global ban on the practice, according to Gizmodo. The change would go into effect in July of next year, and the country would withdraw entirely from the International Whaling Commission.
While Japan had already been shifting away from commercial whaling, it had continued to exploit a loophole that allowed for whales to be hunted under the pretext of scientific research. Hundreds of whales were already being killed each year through this exception.
According to the Associated Press, whale meat from these hunts is widely available throughout the country. Japan’s demand for whale meat has fallen dramatically since the post-war era, falling from around 200,000 tons consumed in the 1960s, to roughly 5,000 more recently, but there is still some demand among older Japanese.
Officials say that whaling will only be conducted within Japan’s territorial waters and exclusive economic zone.
On Wednesday, a statement from Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said that whaling “will be conducted in accordance with international law and within the catch limits calculated in accordance with the method adopted by the IWC to avoid negative impact on cetacean resources.”
They also said annual whaling expeditions to the Southern Ocean, which exploited the research loophole and were a point of contention with Australia, would cease.
Japan’s opponents of the ban argue that many whale populations have rebounded enough to justify whaling. They say that the measure was originally intended to be temporary, as a way to manage the world’s whale stocks.
Iceland and Norway also conduct whaling in defiance of the ban.
However, Japan’s decision has been roundly condemned by governments and activists.
UK environmental secretary Michael Gove said in a tweet:
“The UK is strongly opposed to commercial whaling and will continue to fight for the protection and welfare of these majestic mammals.”
Sam Annesley, Greenpeace Japan’s executive director, argued that marine life is not only under threat from overfishing, but also from pollution, saying in a statement:
“The declaration today is out of step with the international community, let alone the protection needed to safeguard the future of our oceans and these majestic creatures. The government of Japan must urgently act to conserve marine ecosystems, rather than resume commercial whaling.”
“Most whale populations have not yet recovered, including larger whales such as blue whales, fin whales and sei whales.”
And Astrid Fuchs, program lead at Whale and Dolphin Conservation, warned that the move could have a domino effect in places such as South Korea, which also has demand for whale meat.
“We are very worried that it might set a precedent,” said Fuchs, “and that other countries might follow Japan’s lead and leave the commission.”