TOKYO – Japan said it would withdraw from the International Whaling Commission and start catching whales in its coastal waters after it failed to win approval from the IWC for commercial whaling.
The decision, announced by the government’s top spokesman, is a rare break with a multinational organization by Tokyo.
It comes as other governments prioritize national interests over international cooperation, such as the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris climate accord and the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union.
Japan has for decades been frustrated with the hard line of the IWC in maintaining a 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling.
It argues that the ban was only intended to be temporary and has called for quotas to be established for the hunting of whales that ensure healthy populations.
Japan kills several hundred whales a year under a loophole that allows some whaling for scientific research purposes.
Whale meat is served in restaurants across the country.
After the IWC rejected a Japanese proposal this year that would have made it easier to win a vote at the commission to allow some commercial whaling, Tokyo’s representatives threatened to leave the organization.
Japan’s exit from the IWC from mid-2019 means it will no longer catch whales in the Southern Ocean near Antarctica under the scientific research loophole, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a press conference.
The annual whale hunt in the region has led to occasionally violent clashes with anti-whaling activists.
Suga said Japan would ensure whale populations remain sustainable after hunting begins in the seas around Japan.
“In its long history, Japan has used whales not only as a source of protein but also for a variety of other purposes. Engagement in whaling has been supporting local communities, and thereby developed the life and culture of using whales,” Suga said.
Norway and Iceland also hunt hundreds of whales each year in defiance of the IWC ban.
The US and Australia are among the opponents of commercial whaling.
Japan’s decision could undermine international coordination to ensure whale conservation, said Australian Marine Conservation Society Chief Executive Officer Darren Kindleysides.
“Whales face a greater number of threats today than at any stage in their past. Climate change, entanglement in fishing nets, plastic pollution, underwater noise and ship strikes threaten our ocean giants. Our whales need countries to work together, not go it alone,” he said.
Australian Environment Minister Melissa Price said the IWC would continue to have a crucial role in ensuring the conservation of whales and the management of whaling.
Suga said Japan would remain an observer at the IWC and try to broaden support for the sustainable use of aquatic resources.