Asia Pacific NEW YORK TIMES
Japan Plans to Resume Whaling Program, With Changes to Address Court Concerns
TOKYO — In a move likely to bring renewed international criticism, Japan said Friday that it wants to resume its research whaling in the Southern Ocean next year under a redesigned program that would address objections raised by an international court.
In a statement, Minister of Agriculture Yoshimasa Hayashi said Japan would submit a new plan for research whaling this fall to the International Whaling Commission that would allow it to restart its annual hunts in waters off Antarctica in 2015. Earlier in April, Japan canceled this year’s hunt after the International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled that the hunts were in violation of Japan’s legal obligations under an international treaty banning commercial whaling.
In its ruling, the court questioned whether the program was really for research, pointing out that it had yielded few scientific results. Japan says its 26-year-old research program is needed to monitor recovering whale populations in the Southern Ocean, but opponents call it a crude cover for continued commercial whaling.
The decision announced on Friday ran against the predictions of some political analysts, who had said Japan might use the international court ruling as a face-saving pretext for scrapping an outdated program that had become a diplomatic embarrassment. The program had only limited support among the Japanese, who no longer eat much whale meat. The plans for a redesign suggest that pro-whaling interests influenced the government’s decision, environmentalists said.
Mr. Hayashi said Japan would invite “famous scientists from home and abroad” to help devise a new research program that would satisfy the court’s demands. He also said Japan would scale back a separate, smaller research hunt that is to begin next weekend in the northern Pacific Ocean to give it clearer research objectives. Ministry officials said Japan was doing this voluntarily; the court did not rule on the northern hunt.
Mr. Hayashi said Japan was being careful to honor the court’s ruling and international law. But he also said he hoped that the redesigned research whaling program eventually could serve as a step toward resuming commercial hunts, something sought by Japanese cultural conservatives but opposed by many Western nations.
“We are revising the contents of the research to take into consideration the court’s decision to the greatest extent that we can,” Mr. Hayashi told reporters. “We want to gather scientific data in order to resume commercial whaling as soon as possible.”
Environmentalists said Japan’s decision attested to the political power of conservative members of Parliament who see whaling as a facet of traditional Japanese culture under threat from demanding foreigners.
At a meeting on Thursday, a group of pro-whaling politicians called for its revival, while making tongue-in-cheek demands that whale meat be served at the state dinner to welcome President Obama when he visits Tokyo next week.
Environmentalists said Friday’s decision also might be a concession to agricultural and fishing interests by the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, which is trying to wrap up a trade deal with the United States that will force Japan to make politically difficult concessions, like lowering tariffs on beef and other farm products.
“This is a political gift to farm and fishing lobby,” said Junichi Sato, the executive director of Greenpeace Japan.
Anticipating renewed opposition by environmentalists, Mr. Hayashi said the Agricultural Ministry, which runs Japan’s research whaling program, also would try to come up with new countermeasures to thwart “unfortunate obstructionist activities” — a veiled reference to the American antiwhaling group Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, whose ships have obstructed Japanese whalers on the high seas.
Mr. Hayashi revealed few details of what the new whaling program might look like, including how many whales would be killed and what type of scientific research was envisioned. Under its previous research program, Japanese harpooners killed up to 950 minke, fin and humpback whales annually in the Southern Ocean.
However, the minister did say that the number of whales to be killed by Japan’s smaller research hunt in the northern Pacific Ocean would be reduced by almost half, to 210. He said the northern Pacific hunt also would limit its research goals to collecting DNA and other samples. Whaling experts in Japan said this appeared to be an effort to address the international court’s objections by focusing on goals that could produce actual scientific results.
Experts said they expected the new Antarctic research program to do something similar — reducing the number of whales caught while also focusing on concrete objectives that could be published in scientific journals.
“The ruling makes it clear that whaling can be legal if it’s actually carried out for research purposes,” said Masayuki Komatsu, a visiting researcher at the International Center for the Study of East Asian Development in Kitakyushu, Japan.
“Japan is being forced to restructure its whaling from the ground up to turn it into a real research program.”