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International Relations

Japan to propose restart of commercial whaling at IWC meeting

Tokyo will cite evidence that populations of some species have recovered

A humpback whale breaches off the coast near Sydney, Australia.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- Japan is set to propose resuming commercial whaling at a general meeting of the International Whaling Commission in September, with the condition that the hunt is limited to species with large enough populations, Nikkei has learned.

At the IWC's general meeting in Brazil scheduled for Sept. 10-14, the government intends to make a case for the sustainable use of marine resources, citing scientific evidence that the numbers of humpback and other whale species have increased, according to a draft of the proposal. But whether any antiwhaling nations will support the proposal is unclear.

Japan will also include a call for a change in the IWC decision-making process. Currently, a decision on the catch quota requires approval from three-quarters of IWC members. Japan will propose easing the rules so only a simple majority is needed.

The IWC adopted a moratorium on commercial whaling in 1982 as stocks of some species dwindled. To restart the hunt, scientific data are needed showing that stocks are stable, in addition to the support of more than three-quarters of members at a general meeting.

Japan has conducted a "research" whaling program in Antarctic and northwest Pacific waters in line with the provisions of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling. 

The government's data show sufficient stocks of Antarctic minke whales and other species, as well as clear signs of recovery in the numbers of humpback whales and fin whales in the Antarctic. In total, there are more than 80 species of whales in the oceans.

But Tokyo's agenda at the IWC meeting is likely to face opposition. Its insistence that the data warrant expanding the whale hunt will not likely sway the antiwhaling members, which have adamantly opposed attempts to relax the rules out of political considerations. There are 40 such nations among the 88 members of the IWC, making it difficult to achieve a three-fourths majority. Some critics say such a high hurdle makes the commission practically dysfunctional.

Japan's whaling industry faces a critical juncture. The aging ship used for research is expected to last only about three more years. Officials fear the country may be forced to stop even research activities if the situation does not change.

Yet Tokyo remains committed to its prowhaling stance, laying the groundwork in advance of the IWC meeting, included introducing a new law that makes the government responsible for carrying out research whaling.

If the IWC fails to endorse Japan's proposal, the government will explore "all options," an official said. These could include radical step such as withdrawing from the committee, or forming a new international body.

Should Japan withdraw from the IWC, whaling would likely be conducted in locations beyond the Antarctic, the official said.

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