Japan suffered yet another setback on Thursday in its bid for more whaling when an international commission rejected a plea to allow Japanese coastal communities to hunt whales.
An annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission in Ulsan voted against Japan’s proposal to change commission rules and allow it to catch 150 minke whales a year off its northern Pacific coast.
On Wednesday, the IWC chastised Tokyo for its scientific whaling programme, which anti-whaling states say is actually a commercial hunt in the guise of science. A day earlier Japan was also voted down by anti-whaling states in two other ballots.
Twenty-nine member states voted against Japan’s proposal on Thursday to allow its local communities to hunt whales, to 26 in favour. The plan needed a three-quarters majority to be implemented.
Many conservationists and anti-whaling nations said they supported whaling for aboriginal communities as a form of subsistence.
But they saw the measure brought by Japan — the world’s second-largest economy — as a way to skirt rules to benefit coastal communities that are neither impoverished nor in need of whale meat to support a slim diet.
“We don’t campaign against legitimate subsistence whaling, but Japan is trying to create a new category — cultural whaling,” said Patrick Ramage, spokesman for the conservation group International Fund for Animal Welfare.
Japan said a ban on commercial whaling that went into effect in 1986 has hurt some of its communities that have relied on whaling and who need the whale trade to support their local economies and diet.
“This proposal was about human rights, equity, fairness and justice,” said Joji Morishita, a commissioner for Japan, said after the vote.
The commission allows aboriginal communities to hunt whales for subsistence, as long as the catch is not used commercially. Anti-whaling states such as New Zealand are willing to allow this type of whale hunt.
The United States, which many see as a moderating force within the commission, also stood against Japan’s proposal.
“The proposal always troubles us because it deals with culture and the law,” said Rolland Schmitten, commissioner for the U.S. delegation. “But this is outside the convention.”
Japan said it was willing to talk with neutral parties to develop a management scheme that would place strict regulations on its commercial whaling in order to end the whaling moratorium, but it does not think it will ever find a compromise with anti-whaling states such as Australia and New Zealand.
“With extreme, anti-whaling counties, we don’t have any middle ground,” Morishita said later at a press conference.
Japan’s whaling ambitions were dealt a symbolic blow on Wednesday when the commission voted to urge Tokyo to cut its scientific whale hunt.
Although the vote puts more political pressure on Japan, it will still be able to expand its scientific whaling as the project is not regulated by commission rules. Resolutions, such as Wednesday’s vote, are non-binding.
Japan’s well-flagged plan to expand its research work made public at the start of the annual meeting on Monday includes nearly doubling its annual catch of minke whales to about 900 and eventually hunting 50 fin and humpback whales a year — two types of whales conservationists say are threatened.
Much of the meat from whales killed by Japan’s scientific programmes ends up on store shelves or in up-scale restaurants, rather than in laboratories. Japan maintains that killing whales helps them study what they eat, among other things.