Japanese commercial ships hunting whales for the first time in more than three decades caught at least two minke whales Monday and hoped to “hand over our country’s rich whaling culture to the next generation.”
The nation’s Fisheries Agency said it has set “extremely conservative” quotas designed to allow continuous whale hunting for the next 100 years with no harmful impact on the whale population.
Renewing the practice is a win for traditionalists that also extricates the government from its costly and contentious “research” whaling program. It’s just not clear who will actually eat the stuff.
“My heart is overflowing with happiness,” said Yoshifumi Kai, head of the Japan Small-Type Whaling Association. ““This is a small industry, but I am proud of hunting whales. People have hunted whales for more than 400 years in my hometown.”
The Australian Marine Conservation society took a different tack. Darren Kindleysides, the group’s CEO, called whaling “outdated and cruel” and noted that demand for whale meat has dwindled.
ought that by leaving the IWC it could wash its hands of its duties under international law, then it was wrong,” he said, adding that “Today is a historic moment for all the wrong reasons.”
The limits allow for harvesting of 227 minke, Bryde’s and sei whales over the next six months in Japanese waters. Release of the quota had been planned for late June but apparently was withheld until completion of the Group of 20 summit held in Osaka over the weekend.
Whales caught in coastal waters are expected to be brought back for fresh local consumption at any of six local whaling hubs. Whale meat caught further off the coast will be frozen and distributed for wider consumption.
The hunt began one day after Japan formally withdrew from the International Whaling Commission. While a member, Japan had drawn criticism for whaling it conducted under the guise of research.
Under Japan’s new guidelines, whaling in the Antarctic Ocean is banned and research whaling will halt. The Fisheries Agency said the whale haul is actually expected to decline under the new rules.
Other whaling nations have seen catches fall well below quotas. Iceland, with a quota of 378, caught only 17 whales in the 2017-2018 season. Norway hunted 432, about one-third of its quota.
Under its research hunts, Japan at its peak caught as many as 1,200 whales. It drastically cut back on its catch in recent years after international protests escalated and whale meat consumption slumped at home. The research whaling program lost money for years – $15 million in the last year alone.
The annual domestic consumption of whale meat, about 200,000 tons in the 1960s, has fallen to around 5,000 tons in recent years, according to government data.
In the northern city of Kushiro, whaling ship captain Takashi Takeuchi told Kyodo news service he “felt uneasy” about the outlook for commercial whaling in Japan. He noted that Japanese have long since eaten whale meat consumption on a regular basis.
Hideki Abe, 22, works aboard a whaling ship, said the youth of Japan will be key to whaling’s future.
“I hope the younger generations will get accustomed to eating whale meat,” he said.
Contributing: The Associated Press