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1 Jul, 2019 20:58

Japan’s first commercial whale hunt in 30 years sparks outrage from activists

Japan’s first commercial whale hunt in 30 years sparks outrage from activists

The first commercial whale hunt since 1988 took place in Japan on Monday. Japan pulled out last December from the International Whaling Commission (IWC), which has imposed a ban on commercial whaling.

The country’s Fishing Agency had announced a quota of 227 whales in June, but is believed to have delayed its announcement until Monday, possibly to avoid courting controversy at the G20 summit Japan hosted over the weekend. The agency said that the hunts will take place solely within Japan’s exclusive economic zone, rather than in international waters.

After commercial whaling was banned by the IWC in 1988, Japan switched to what it called ‘research whaling.’ However, the research whaling program has lost money, including $15 million in 2018 alone, according to the Associated Press.

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On the first day back on the waters, commercial whalers caught and brought back to shore two minke whales. Fishery Agency officials said that the meat from the catches will be auctioned on Thursday.

Locals and elected officials in two of Japan’s major whaling towns, Shimonoseki and Kushiro, celebrated the first commercial whaling ship of this new era leaving port. But conservationists and environmental activists have expressed outrage at the move, which many see as cynical and politically motivated.

In spite of lofty rhetoric from politicians from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, the industry only employs a few hundred people while the business has seen declining demand for whale meat. 

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Though a popular source of protein in the country’s difficult economic times in the aftermath of World War II, whale was gradually eclipsed in popularity by other meats after annual consumption peaked in the 1960s. Moreover, the government plans on reducing the $46 million in annual subsidies it pays whalers.

Norway and Iceland are the only other countries that allow commercial whaling . But both have seen sharp declines in catches in recent years, following fears that the practice damages their nations’ image on the world stage. Both countries did catch whales in the 2017-2018 season, but well below their catch quotas. Conservationists have been encouraging whale watching in these countries as an alternative to hunting the animals for food.

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