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Japan's Whaling Offensive Media Briefing


Greenpeace Media Briefing January 2000

Background: The Japanese government, pressed by its whaling industry, has embarked on an ambitious programme to resume large scale commercial whaling on the high seas, despite international opposition.

This century, unregulated whaling has led to the over- exploitation, and subsequent decline, of whale populations. In 1982, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) responded by instigating an indefinite moratorium on commercial whaling, which came into effect in 1986. This was further strengthened when, in 1994, it declared that whaling would be permanently banned in the seas around the Antarctic that are of particular importance to whales: the Southern Ocean Sanctuary.

As we enter the new millennium, Japan is the only country that continues to ignore the IWC and violate international law by whaling in this protected area. It does so by exploiting a loophole in the IWC’s charter that permits 'scientific' whaling. Japan's catch is, however, sold commercially on the open market.

Japan is struggling to keep its whaling industry, and the whale meat market, alive. It continues to build new whaling ships and provide 'on the job' training for the next generation of whalers. Recently, it has stepped up its attempts to 'buy' votes from small, developing countries in return for foreign aid in order to weaken whale protection regulations. It has also launched a public relations offensive which falsely suggests that whales' fish consumption is the predominant cause of global fisheries’problems.

Opening International Markets for Whale Products: The Government of Japan, with the support of Norway, is actively lobbying countries that are members of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), to lift the current ban on all international trade in whale products. Together, Japan and Norway have formally proposed that four populations of whales, including minke whales in the Southern Ocean and the north east Atlantic, be ‘downlisted’ from Appendix 1 to Appendix 2 of CITES, which would mean that products from these whales could be exported to Japan. If Japan and Norway are successful, the resumption of international trade in whale products will provide a powerful incentive to both countries to substantially increase their whaling and may well prompt other countries to resume the commercial hunting of these and other whale species to take advantage of a lucrative trade with Japan.

The next CITES meeting is to be held in Nairobi, April 2000.

New Ships: In 1991, the Japanese whaling industry commissioned a new factory ship, converted from a modern stern trawler. In 1998, the keel was laid for the first new catcher boat to be built in Japan in 26 years. When it was completed, five months later, this high powered vessel was heralded by the Japanese whaling industry as a symbol for the re-opening of large scale, commercial whaling. Its first assignment was to catch protected whales in the Southern Ocean Sanctuary, over 10,000 miles from Japan.

Vote buying: Japan gives aid money to six Eastern Caribbean countries and the Solomon Islands. These countries speak in support of resumed whaling and vote with Japan on all occasions at IWC meetings. This summer, the Japanese media reported that Japan is planning to press for similar support from a further thirteen countries in order to gain a majority vote in favour of resuming commercial whaling at the next meeting of the IWC, to be held in Australia in July 2000. The countries targeted include: Trinidad and Tobago, Zimbabwe, Guinea, Namibia, Morocco, Mauritania and South Pacific Island countries.

Reports also indicate that Japan intends to use the votes of these countries at the next CITES meeting.

Blaming the Whales for the World’s Fishing Crisis: Over the last two years, Japan has asserted that whales eat so many fish that they are responsible for depleted stocks and, subsequently, the problems facing the fishing industry today. Japan claims that food consumption by cetaceans is up to 500 million tonnes a year, equivalent to "roughly three to six times the total estimated recent world-wide marine fisheries catch".

However, most fish species eaten by whales are not the targets of commercial fisheries. For example, Japan calculates that whales consume up to 269 million tonnes of seafood in the Southern Hemisphere alone, yet the baleen whales of the Antarctic eat only krill, which is considered to be one of the most abundant populations of sea life and is of little commercial value. The toothed whales feed on deep sea, giant squid which dive so deep and swim so fast that humans cannot catch them at all.

Furthermore, the fish or squid eaten by whales may be predators of commercially valuable varieties of fish. In this case the presence of whales, keeping the predator population under control, is likely to lead to increased populations of commercially valuable fish.

The damage to fisheries world-wide is a result of over fishing, often driven by subsidies given by industrialised nations to their domestic fishing fleets. Whales have existed in balance with fish for millions of years and, before industrial fishing began, large populations of whales co-existed with large populations of fish.

For further information please contact Sarah Duthie, Greenpeace New Zealand 09-630-6317 or 025- 927-301 Matilda Bradshaw at the Greenpeace International press desk on +31 20 524 9545

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