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Sei whale compliance issue at CITES Standing Committee

Sei whale compliance issue at CITES Standing Committee

17 August 2019


Since 2002, Japan has killed more than 1,500 sei whales—the third largest species on the planet and an endangered species—on the high seas of the North Pacific. Their meat and blubber, amounting to more than 18,000 metric tons, is sold on Japan's domestic market. This includes more than 1,500 tons from 131 sei whales killed in 2018. Sei whale meat from these hunts is widely available in shops and restaurants: Seventy four percent of sellers surveyed in June 2019 could supply sei products, including canned and frozen items. Sei meat is also widely available online: Yahoo! Shopping Japan offered 118 different sei whale products for sale on a randomly selected day in April 2019 while a new online whale meat seller, Kujiraniku,[1] held stocks of at least 78 tons of sei whale products in June.

Sei whales are listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) which prohibits international trade in their products for primarily commercial purposes. CITES defines international trade to include the landing of species taken on the high seas (beyond the jurisdiction of any state). This is known as "introduction from the sea”.

At its 70th meeting in 2018 the Standing Committee of CITES decided that Japan's introduction from the sea of sei whale meat and blubber since 2002 violated the Convention because it was for primarily commercial purposes. The Committee required Japan to take remedial action and to report to its 71st meeting (SC71) on efforts to restore compliance. That meeting took place in Geneva today (August, 16th 2019).

What happened at SC71?

Although Japan no longer hunts sei whales on the high seas, SC71 expressed serious concern about Japan's ongoing and extensive commercial use of the thousands of tons of sei whale meat already introduced from the sea in contravention of the Convention since 2002. CITES requires parties to take enforcement action in respect to illegally-traded specimens, including their confiscation and disposal and the majority of SC members and observer parties who spoke at SC71 called for the sei meat to be confiscated and disposed of.

SC71 ultimately requested that Japan report back to the next meeting on its use of the sei meat, taking into account a CITES resolution on the disposal of confiscated specimens.

Our position

AWI, HSI, IFAW and WDC are happy that the Standing Committee is taking this issue seriously and expects Japan to take further steps to comply with the convention. It is our position that, to achieve compliance—and for the credibility of CITES—Japan must now confiscate and dispose of all sei whale meat introduced from the sea since 2002.

"This is not a complex legal issue. The prohibition against commercial use of species threatened with extinction has been in effect for Japan since it joined CITES in 1980. Japan's issuance of permits for sei whale meat has been in violation of the Convention since 2002, when it first issued its permits. The finding by Standing Committee simply confirmed that Japan had been acting in contravention of the treaty,” said Erica Lyman, Professor of Clinical Law at Lewis & Clark Law School.

Nicola Beynon, Head of Campaigns at Humane Society International Australia, said "It is utterly unacceptable for the meat of an endangered whale species that is protected on Appendix 1 of CITES to be widely and brazenly on sale in Japan. The Government of Japan should act in accordance with CITES and ensure all sales of illegally traded sei whale cease and confiscate the meat. If endangered species are to avoid extinction swift and proper application of international law is crucial”.

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