Japan’s Bizarre and Sad New Whaling Laws

The madness behind the Japan government’s continued support of hunting whales and dolphins apparently is catching. Last month, Japan’s Parliament passed a series of laws aiming to return to commercial whaling and to allow arrest of people protesting whaling and dolphin hunting.

For many years, the Japan Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry has been the main government advocate to support continued whaling, including the bogus “scientific” whaling that has been conducted by Japan every year since the worldwide moratorium on commercial whaling went into effect in 1986-87.

Around 45,168 whales have been killed since the moratorium: of these dead whales, 19,167 were killed by Japan’s “research whaling,” 10,395 were killed by Norwegian whalers, and 1,086 were killed by Iceland.  Japan would likely have killed even more whales had not the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society interfered with their whaling in the Antarctic, a campaign celebrated by the Animal Planet series “Whale Wars.”

The Japan Fisheries Agency recently increased the number of species that the Taiji dolphin hunters could kill as depicted in the Oscar-winning documentary, “The Cove”. Apparently, the annual 6-months-long slaughter of dolphins of seven different species isn’t enough blood for the town of Taiji. Taiji asked the Japan government to provide them with new annual quotas for two new species: a quota of 46 rough toothed dolphins and 704 melon-headed whales (actually a large dolphin). Okinawa, which also supports a much smaller dolphin harpoon hunt, is apparently included in the request. Representatives of the Japan Fisheries Agency claim the new killing will advance – you guessed it – “research” on these dolphins.

While there has been strong support of Japan’s whaling from within certain segments of the rural-dominated Parliament and from conservative Japanese Prime Ministers (such as the current PM Shinzo Abe), the fanatic pro-whaling policy has not been uniformly supported. The Japan Foreign Office, for example, reportedly hates the problems that are raised by the whaling issue with overseas countries and Japan’s more important global issues. But they have been stymied by the powerful Japan Fisheries Agency – 80% of Japan’s protein comes from the sea.

Statue of boy on dolphin, from the town of Taiji, Japan
Statue of boy on dolphin, from the town of Taiji, Japan

Remarkably, the people of Japan have been decidedly unenthusiastic about buying and eating whale meat. In a 2012 poll conducted for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), 88.8% of the Japanese public said they had not bought any whale meat in the past 12 months. While 26.6% said they supported Japan’s scientific whaling, 18.5% opposed the hunts and the rest of the population were undecided, hardly a ringing endorsement of Japan’s bloody whaling policy.

Much of the whale meat brought in from the scientific whaling scheme is being held in warehouses, frozen because it does not sell well on the Japan market. Sales of dolphin meat have also plummeted. Because sales of whale meat are so poor, the Japan government has subsidized the scientific whaling scheme at 5 billion yen ($44.7 million US) annually.

The new legislation claims the purpose of Japan’s scientific whaling is to set the stage for a return to full-scale commercial whaling on the high seas, a move currently blocked by the International Whaling Commission (IWC). But the Japan government has consistently ignored objections and resolutions from the IWC against its scientific whaling and has even ignored a decision by the International Court of Justice that they close down their whaling activities as undermining the IWC.

The new Japanese legislation includes funding to repair the aging whale ships being used for the current bogus “scientific” whaling and guarantees funding for whale “research” in the future.

Furthermore, the new legislation allows Japan to send vessels to Antarctica with the fleet specifically to deal with harassment from such organizations as the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which seeks to interfere with whaling activities they contend violate international law. (Memo to Japan government: Sea Shepherd is right.)

The legislation also gives new authority to Japan immigration enforcement to deal with people who may be “likely” to sabotage or harass whaling vessels in Japan. This is an obvious effort to legalize the blocking of people, such as members of Sea Shepherd, who come to Japan to legally and peacefully protest the dolphin hunts in Taiji.

The Australian government bitterly denounced the new whaling laws. Attorney-General George Brandis told the Australian Parliament: "The Australian government does not consider that Japan's whaling program is for the purposes of scientific research. Nor are we convinced that the program is consistent with the principles of the International Court of Justice's 2014 decision or of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling." The International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling established the IWC and lays down provisions for international whaling, including the ongoing moratorium on commercial whaling.

Prior to the passage of the legislation, Japanese environmental groups issued a strong statement against the legislation: “(I)f this flawed bill goes ahead, our tax money will be spent on these wasteful programs every year, whilst damaging our relationships with otherwise friendly nations, and disgracing ourselves internationally. The Fisheries Agency currently appropriates 5 billion yen annually for the research whaling budget. This amount exceeds the 4.6 billion yen that is allocated for resource assessment for Japan’s entire coastal fisheries. If this bill passes, more public funds will be invested, and not only the development of the fisheries industry but also all other fisheries operations will suffer. It has no connection to Japan’s national interests. We cannot let such a bill pass.”

Fourteen Japanese environmental organizations signed the statement, and it was endorsed by more than a dozen International organizations, including Greenpeace, IFAW, and the International Marine Mammal Project of Earth Island Institute.

The craven support in the Parliament for this legislation shows how far we have yet to go to end Japan’s illegal and immoral whaling and dolphin killing programs.

In 2020, the Olympics are coming to Tokyo, Japan. The world’s attention will be focused on Japan at that time, so having the ugly facts about whaling and dolphin hunting on public display is NOT in the interest of the Japan government. Please sign our Petition.

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