Japan announces IWC withdrawal to resume commercial whaling

Packs of whale meat at a whale meat specialty store at Tokyo’s Ameyoko shopping district

Packs of whale meat at a whale meat specialty store at Tokyo’s Ameyoko shopping district

"This is heartbreaking", said Greenpeace International soon after news broke that Japan would resume commercial whaling in July 2019.

"We have chose to withdraw from the International Whaling Commission in order to resume commercial whaling in July next year", top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga told reporters.

Japan said Wednesday it is withdrawing from the International Whaling Commission and will resume commercial whaling next year, in a move expected to spark international criticism.

Tomiji Saito, the deputy head of a local tourism association and the organizer of a whaling festival, said the nation's restart of commercial whaling for the first time in about 30 years is good news.

The withdrawal from the IWC may be a face-saving step to stop Japan's ambitious Antarctic hunts and scale down the scope of whaling to around the Japanese coasts.

"Once commercial whaling resumes, I believe the supply (of whale meat) will stabilize", he said.

The research programme has been criticised as a cover for commercial hunting as the meat is sold on the market at home.

Japan is now conducting research whaling in the Northwestern Pacific and the Antarctic Ocean, but it must halt such activities in those waters once it withdraws from the IWC. Third, it will "cease the take of whales in the Antarctic Ocean/the Southern Hemisphere".

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Commercial whaling was banned under a 1986 International Whaling Commission moratorium. Japanese ambassador Masaki Saito was visiting earlier this year.

"The next great thing about it is that if they leave the IWC, that means the Atlantic whale sanctuary will then go ahead because they've been voting against that for years".

Japan is also stresing that eating whale is part of its culture.

Some towns in Japan such as Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture, have a whaling tradition but have become the focus of intense worldwide pressure by conservation groups.

Many members of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Liberal Democratic Party do support whaling, and he himself comes from a constituency where whale hunting remains popular. Whaling communities and those who work in the industry have welcomed the resumption of commercial hunts, but others have expressed concern about whales and the expected damage to Japan's reputation.

It makes no secret of the fact that meat from the expeditions ends up on dinner tables, and argues that stocks of certain whales are now sufficient to allow commercial hunts to resume. Whale meat ends up on store shelves, even though most Japanese no longer eat it. Whale consumption accounted for 0.1 percent of all Japanese meat consumption, according to the Asahi newspaper.

Environmental group Greenpeace condemned the decision and disputed Japan's view that whale stocks have recovered, saying that ocean life is being threatened by pollution as well as overfishing.

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