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International relations

Japan's exit from international whaling group draws outcry

Withdrawal sets 'dangerous precedent,' NGO says

Japan seeks to restart commercial whaling for the first time since 1998.   © Reuters

SYDNEY -- Japan's decision to withdraw from the International Whaling Commission in a bid to resume commercial hunting has drawn immediate condemnation from other countries and conservation groups.

Australia, which has long opposed whaling, voiced its disappointment. "We will continue to work through the commission to conserve whales, and remain opposed to all forms of commercial and so-called 'scientific' whaling," said Melissa Price, the nation's environment minister.

An Icelandic farm and fishery official told Nikkei that the country understands Japan's long-standing frustrations with the IWC, but that Iceland does not plan to withdraw from the organization at this time.

The Australian ministers also qualified her comments by saying Japan was within its rights to quit the U.K.-based IWC. "While we would strongly prefer Japan to remain a party to the convention and a member of the commission, the decision to withdraw is a matter for Japan," said Price.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's cabinet is expected to approve the departure on Tuesday, and Japan will leave the U.K.-headquartered organization at the end of June. Japan had hoped to resume commercial catches of relatively abundant species but the IWC remains opposed to any form of commercial whaling.

Nongovernmental organizations were more pointed in their criticism. "Japan is reportedly threatening to turn their back on international efforts to control whaling and conserve whales," Darren Kindleysides, CEO of the Australian Marine Conservation Society, said in a statement released Thursday.

"Leaving the IWC would set a very dangerous precedent for other international treaties and conventions," Kindleysides continued. "Not satisfied with harpooning whales, it now looks like Japan is threatening to harpoon the future of the IWC."

Sea Shepard Australia, an anti-whaling group, blasted Tokyo's exit as "an extreme step for Japan." The move goes against international consensus that supports ending commercial whaling, the organization said.

The international group Whale and Dolphin Conservation called Japan's decision "devastating news" for whales in a statement. "We can only hope that conservation-minded countries like the U.K. will take appropriate measures to respond to Japan's decision, including the threat of sanctions," the group added.

The BBC notes that Japan will still be bound by certain international laws even after leaving the IWC. The British broadcaster says Tokyo can find like-minded members to form a separate international organization -- or it could join an existing body like the North Atlantic Marine Mammal Commission.

Nammco was founded in 1992 after Norway and Iceland decided to continue commercial whaling after the IWC instituted a moratorium in 1982. Nammco also counts Greenland and the Faroe Islands as members.

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