Closures, resignations and cancelled celebrations - Japan's whaling programme in disarray
Tokyo, Japan, 12 November 2008: Japan's whaling industry is in deep crisis, even before the fleet prepares to leave port for its annual hunt in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, with new revelations of financial and image problems adding to the woes of the scandal-plagued industry.
The Institute for Cetacean Research, which conducts Japan's whaling programme, and Kyodo Senpaku, which operates the whaling fleet, this week announced the closure of the whaling industry's flagship 'Yushin' whale meat shop and restaurant in Asakusa, Tokyo due to ongoing financial problems 
In addition, Greenpeace has learned that for the first time the taxpayer-funded whaling fleet will not be 100% Japanese-crewed, due to the resignation of many crew members following the recent whale meat embezzlement scandal exposed by Greenpeace in May 2008 . Greenpeace has also received reports of the potential cancellation of the high-profile ceremony in the whaling fleet's home port of Shimonoseki, which traditionally marks the departure of the whalers for the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. The fleet is expected to depart later this week, from another port, where it will be seen off only by families of crew members and officials from the whaling operation.
This series of embarrassments follow last month's deflagging of the whaling fleet's refueling and cargo ship, Oriental Bluebird , after being ruled in violation of a number of domestic and international regulations by Panamanian authorities.
"As any commercial operator knows, when your business is universally condemned, when you can't hold onto your staff and when almost no one will buy your products - its time to shut it down", said Sara Holden, Greenpeace International Whales Campaign coordinator. "Although whaling officials claim the decline in business is due to a lack of supply, the Institute for Cetacean Research's own figures flatly contradict this; the stockpile of whale meat is actually increasing, which shows that there is no market for whale meat in Japan ."
Greenpeace's campaign to end whaling in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary has increasingly focused on the authorities in Japan, where 71% of the public do not support Japan's whaling programme. As a result of the Greenpeace investigation into embezzlement of whale meat from the factory ship Nisshin Maru, Japanese authorities mounted a politically motivated prosecution of two Greenpeace activists.
Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki, known as the Tokyo Two, have been denied their liberty for 145 days, since exposing the corruption. They will be put on trial early next year, and face up to 10 years in jail for intercepting whale meat stolen by crew from the whaling factory ship Nisshin Maru .
Amnesty International has denounced the arrest as being politically motivated, and in a periodic evaluation completed last month, the United Nations Human Rights Committee severely reprimanded the Japanese government for the "unreasonable restrictions placed on freedom of expression" in Japan. It also condemned the abuse of trespass laws by Japanese police to harass activists who are critical of government policy .
"The extreme reaction by the authorities shows Greenpeace's work in Japan has put the whaling establishment under pressure" said Jun Hoshikawa, Executive Director of Greenpeace Japan. "The whale meat market has clearly collapsed and is unprofitable, and the stigma of scandal and corruption has made it an unattractive and less lucrative industry to work for. The whaling industry's days are numbered, and it's time for the Japanese taxpayer to demand the government stops subsidising this bankrupt programme."
(1) Nikkei, November 11th 2008: The Institute of Cetacean Research and whaling fleet operators Kyodo Sempaku announced a rationalization plan, including the cancellation of open-boat departure ceremonies and the closing of of "Yushin", its whale meat shop in Asakusa, Tokyo by 2010.
(2) Greenpeace investigation: Japan's stolen whale meat scandal, May 15 2008 - dossier available from: http://www.greenpeace.org/international/press/reports/whale-meat-scandal-dossier
A Greenpeace undercover investigation found that valuable cuts of whale meat were being smuggled ashore by the crew of the Japanese whaling factory ship, Nisshin Maru, for illegal trade and personal gain, at the Japanese taxpayer's expense.
(3) The whaling fleet's refueling vessel, Oriental Bluebird, is also responsible for taking around 50% of the whaling fleet's catch back to Japan. Japan has ratified an international treaty which seeks to end the practice of 'flag hopping' to evade environmental law. With the Bluebird now looking for a new flag after its owners de-registered her following a ruling in Panama to fine them for violating an environmental treaty, the government is duty-bound not to rely on the vessel's services for at least three years.
(4) According to Japan's Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, there was 2800 tonnes of whale meat in storage at the beginning of 2008, which has increased to 4200 tonnes by September 2008.
(5) Junichi and Toru were arrested on June 20th, and spent 26 days in custody before being charged. Bail conditions require that they request permission to be away from home for more than three days. http://www.greenpeace.org/tokyo-two
(6) UN Human Rights Committee, Ninety-fourth session, Geneva, 13-31 October 2008, Concluding observations of the Human Rights Committee on Japan, UN Doc. CCPR/C/JPN/CO/5, para. 26, available at http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrc/docs/co/CCPR-C-JPN-CO.5.doc