Japan declared on Wednesday that it would withdraw from an international agreement and continue commercial whaling. This is a defiant move to keep active an industry that is still very culturally significant. But the worldwide demand for whale meat is massively declining.
Yoshihide Suga, Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, said the country would keep the International Whaling Commission, which established a moratorium on hunting whales that took effect in 1986.
The international agreement never stopped whaling in Japan, because it allowed the country to continue killing whales for scientific research while selling the meat. Most considered the research a little more than a cover for commercial whaling.
Recently Japan has had an annual quota in the Antarctic of 333 minke whales, which in the 2017-18 hunting season included 122 pregnant females. As part of its withdrawal from the international commission, Japan will halt its annual hunts in the Antarctic and limit whalers to its own waters. Commercial whaling will resume in July, Mr. Suga said.
Mr. Suga said the International Whaling Commission focused too much on conservation and had failed to develop a sustainable whaling industry, which is one of its stated goals.
“In its long history, Japan has used whales not only as a source of protein but also for a variety of other purposes,” Mr. Suga said in a statement. “Engagement in whaling has been supporting local communities, and thereby developed the life and culture of using whales.”
Sam Annesley, the executive director of Greenpeace Japan, condemned the government’s decision.
“The declaration today is out of step with the international community, let alone the protection needed to safeguard the future of our oceans and these majestic creatures,” he said in a statement. “The government of Japan must urgently act to conserve marine ecosystems, rather than resume commercial whaling.”
Japanese people used to eat more than 233,000 tons of whale meat per year in 1962, but just 3,000 tons in 2016, according to government data. As of 2013, the industry employed fewer than 1,000 people, and in recent years it has been dependent on government subsidies.