Japan's Whaling Commission withdrawal is a 'big deal'

Japan's Whaling Commission withdrawal is a 'big deal'

Japan will resume commercial whaling, a practice it officially ended more than 3 decades ago, and withdraw from the International Whaling Commission, officials say.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said that Japan's commercial whaling will be limited to its territorial and economic waters.

Suga said, leaving the IWC means Japanese whalers will be able to resume hunting in Japanese coastal waters of minke and other whales now protected by the IWC.

It reverses decades of policy as the commission issued an global suspension of commercial hunting in 1986 but Japan has since been whale hunting in the name of scientific research, with much of the meat also ending up on store shelves.

"Japan argues that it has a long tradition of whaling, even though Japanese today eat very little whale meat", NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports from Tokyo.

Activist groups slammed Tokyo's decision, with Humane Society International saying Japan would become "a pirate whaling nation killing these ocean leviathans completely outside the bounds of international law".

In addition to Japan, both Norway and Iceland have maintained some level of whaling since the moratorium took effect in 1986, according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

The government confirmed on Wednesday that it will leave the International Whaling Commission (IWC) on June 30, ending weeks of speculation.

"This is a grave mistake which is out of step with the rest of the world", said Sam Annesley, executive director at Greenpeace Japan.

A number of coastal communities in Japan have hunted whales for centuries, but consumption in the country surged only after World War Two when whales were the main source of meat.

Japan has claimed stocks have recovered enough to resume commercial hunting. Australia's foreign minister, Marise Payne, and its environment minister, Melissa Price, said in a joint statement: "Australia remains resolutely opposed to all forms..."

"As there may be worldwide criticism, I expect (the government) to try to gain the understanding of anti-whaling nations", he said, adding he hopes whaling for commercial use will be carried out under appropriate resource management in a similar manner to when the country's so-called research whaling was conducted.

Commercial whaling was banned by the IWC in 1986 after some species were driven nearly to extinction.

The Fisheries Agency said Japan plans to catch three kinds of whale that are believed to have sufficient stocks - minke, sei and Bryde's.

She added: "This is the path of a pirate whaling nation, with a troubling disregard for worldwide rule".

Reports of the impending decision - an unusual step for Japan, which stresses multilateralism in its diplomacy - had sparked criticism from global conservationist groups.

After Japan's request to adapt the ban fell on deaf ears at the IWC's meeting in September, Suga said, "it unveiled the fact that it is not possible in the IWC even to seek the coexistence of States with different views".

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