Auckland, 4 April 2002
Defying a worldwide moratorium on whale hunting, Japan's whaling fleet is returning this week from the Antarctic carrying two thousand tons of whale meat for commercial sale caught in a whale sanctuary 6000 miles from Japan. For the past 15 years, the Fisheries Agency of Japan has subsidised the hunt for whales through a private organisation set up by Japan's whaling industry under the guise of "scientific research".
"The FAJ claims that whales are eating too many fish, but not one of the 440 whales they caught had eaten fish. This species does not eat fish and this has been known for decades. They claim to be doing research for the International Whaling Commission, but that body has never requested this program, does not need the data produced and has repeatedly called for it to be cancelled," said Pia Mancia, Greenpeace Oceans Campaigner.
"The fact that we have a whaling fleet steaming back into port with whale products for a dying market and research of no value is an anachronism. It’s as if Captain Ahab were sailing into the 21st century. This is especially true with the tide of Japanese opinion turning against whaling.”
In a recent independent poll done by the Asahi Shimbun, 36 percent of the Japanese questioned were against whale hunting. Only four percent said they ate whale meat "sometimes" and an additional nine percent ate it "very rarely". (1) Part of the last "research" catch was returned to the wholesalers unsold.
Although there is virtually no market in Japan for whale meat except as a luxury food, the FAJ is aggressively campaigning for the resumption of commercial whaling in the lead up to the International Whaling Commission’s annual meeting in Shimonoseki, Japan in May. In recent months, the Fisheries Agency has pushed a public relations campaign to drum up interest among the Japanese public in eating whale meat. At the same time, they declared that they would begin hunting sei whales, an endangered species, in the North Atlantic, as well as increasing their quota of minke whales.
Also of concern is the FAJ’s effort to form a pro-whaling voting bloc by buying votes from developing countries using their Overseas Development Assistance. It is feared amongst conservation minded governments and environmental groups that the FAJ may assemble a pro-whaling majority at the IWC and try to overturn the present moratorium or expand the present “scientific research” whaling to other species and other sanctuaries. (2)
“Fishery officials have been particularly ruthless in waging a disinformation campaign. They have been claiming that whales eat too many fish and that anti-whalers are unscientific and sentimental. The real issue is overfishing by humans and this is a story that the FAJ does not want told,” said Mancia. "Whales already face threats from degradation of the oceans caused by humans. Whales do not need to be made a scapegoat for overfishing they need an end to whaling."
1) An independent poll released last week by the Japanese national newspaper shows Japanese attitudes toward whales to be significantly different than that reflected in the government commissioned poll released two weeks ago. In that poll, the government claimed that 75 percent of the Japanese people favour a return to commercial whaling under controlled conditions. The Asahi Shimbun poll in contrast shows that only 47 percent of the Japanese public agree with whale hunting. This is down by 7 percent from Asahi Shimbun's 1993 poll figure showing 53 percent of those polled supporting whale hunting. According to the current poll over one third of the Japanese public opposed whaling.
Significantly, the Asahi Shimbun poll which questioned 3000 people reveals a shift in attitude toward supporting the protection of whales based upon a concern for damage to the marine eco-system and away from a concern that the rest of the world is bashing Japan because of its food culture.
2) In the run-up to the 2001 IWC meeting a senior member of the Japanese delegation, Mr. Komatsu, confirmed that Japan was vote buying. In an interview with ABC TV, Australia, Mr. Komatsu admitted that Japan had to use the “tools of diplomatic communications and promises of overseas development aid to influence members of the International Whaling Commission". The Fisheries Agency of Japan’s vote buying programme is gathering momentum. At the 1993 meeting the Fisheries Agency had just five countries on their payroll.
By 1999 there were seven. Japan brought one new country into the IWC in 2000 and two more in 2001. The Agency now enjoys the support of ten nations whose votes are paid for: Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Guinea, Grenada, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Lucia, St. Kitts and Nevis, Solomon Islands, Panama and Morocco. All of these except Morocco vote with Japan on every issue. The votes of these countries, combined with those of nations like China, Korea, Norway and Russia, which vote with Japan for their own reasons mean that the Fisheries Agency is within 3 or 4 votes of having a majority in the IWC. The Fisheries Agency of Japan is believed to have stepped up its vote buying drive, concentrating on West Africa.