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David @ Tokyo

Perspective from Japan on whaling and whale meat, a spot of gourmet news, and monthly updates of whale meat stockpile statistics



IWC 60 : Japan's IWC ultimatum hits the media

It's taken a while, but at least some segments of the media are starting to wake up to what is going on with the IWC this year.

As seen in the IWC 60 meeting Agenda, Japan has followed up on it's statement (and Japanese) to the IWC last year regarding the possibility of it changing the way in which it participates as an IWC member, this year in the Agenda document itself warning that the situation at the IWC must be changed, or "the collapse of IWC will be unavoidable". This in itself is a warning of similar type to that which has been seen from Japan in the past, but this year in the Agenda Japan has stated a clear deadline by which "a clear direction for the future of IWC should be determined and the procedures reformed", namely "by the end of the 61st Annual Meeting at the latest".

This IWC 61 deadline coincides with the end of the tenure of the US as chair of the IWC (at which point the vice-chair - currently Japan - would normally take over), and also with the statement Japan that made last December in reference to it's decision to delay the taking of 50 humpback whales in the Antarctic each year under it's JARPA II programme (i.e., "one or two years", while Japan regards the IWC reform as making progress).

As far as I know, this is the first time that Japan has explicitly stated a deadline as such, and I imagine that Japanese officials had hoped that this added significance would not be lost on other IWC members and observers.

And so it's with a "finally" that today I can say I've now seen the first mention of this in both the Japanese and Western media, seemingly thanks to Kyodo news. A copy of the original Japanese story is here, and a summary translation of the interesting bits is below:
Notice of deadline for commercial whaling resumption - Japan government to IWC member nations

The Japanese government has warned IWC member nations that if discussions towards normalizing the IWC have not progressed by the end of next year's June meeting in Portugal, it "will review the way it participates at the IWC, including resuming whaling unilaterally", it was learnt on the 21st.

At last year's IWC meeting, Japan had suggested the possibility of withdrawing from the IWC or a unilateral resumption, but this time it appears to have set a deadline for discussions. A backlash from anti-whaling nations is expected.

Regarding this year's meeting in Santiago, a Japanese negotiator stated that "the key is whether or not a working group is established to make progress towards a commercial whaling resumption".
It looks like Bloomberg picked up on that story:
Japan may resume commercial whaling if negotiations at the International Whaling Commission don't make progress by the end of next year's IWC general meeting, Kyodo News reported.

The Japanese government notified IWC member countries it may resume commercial whaling if the commission fails to resolve tensions between pro- and anti-whaling parties, Kyodo News said yesterday, citing sources close to the matter it didn't identify.

Of course this deadline is written clearly in the meeting agenda but busy journalists wouldn't have time to read such things.

Some other recent articles that talk about collapse, albeit without mention of the IWC 61 deadline have appeared, such as Richard Black's article at the BBC, and this Reuters story, quoting Joji Morishita:
"I think the Santiago meeting should be remembered as the meeting that saved the IWC, rather than the meeting which finally killed the IWC," said Joji Morishita, director for international negotiations at Japan's government Fisheries Agency.

"We are trying to send out the message that if we fail now, this organization will be dead, and that's a very important message," he told Reuters on Friday.

* * *

My view is that Japan is highly unlikely to see any significant or meaningful progress towards normal sustainable whaling at the IWC, no matter how patient it is, or how much it might compromise. There is currently no political reason for those nations that have chosen to adopt vigorous anti-whaling policy to turn around and tolerate any level or form of sustainable whaling (aside from the established double standard of "aboriginal subsistence" whaling). To do so would be an own-goal in terms of domestic politics.

And even once the nations supporting sustainable use of whales do give up on the IWC as a whaling regulatory body, and establish replacements to pick up and fulfil this important mandate, still there is no reason to expect change.

In countries such as my homeland, being against whaling has almost become a part of the national psyche - to be against whaling is an official policy that many people in those nations feel good about. Without a constituency that sees it as a big enough problem to change, it will never be compromised upon. The symbolic, feel-good nature of the policy contributes to this. The whaling dispute is a small, insignificant issue to the vast majority of people, everywhere. Whereas tough negotiations in international disputes such as that involving North Korea have seen real progress made in comparatively short time, the IWC has been going nowhere for years. The dynamic of the symbolic policy against whaling, coupled with a reality that few people have genuine interests that suffer due to the ongoing whaling activity that takes place around the world today, seems to be a large contributor to this inertia. And, as I suggest above, Japan and others giving up on the IWC as a whaling regulatory body isn't going to change that, in my view.

During the recent visit of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd of Australia to Japan, he and his counterpart, Prime Minister Fukuda agreed to disagree on whaling. I believe that this is the only realistic way for the dispute to be "resolved" as such. To that end, I suggest that rather than waste too much (more) time and effort at the IWC, Japan and other like-minded nations would be better serving their interests if they start focusing on their alternate options, while maintaining a view on ensuring that the international whaling dispute reaches an equilibrium, via the "agree to disagree" approach.

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I agree with your analysis. In the end I do think whaling nations ought to exit the IWC and move on to form a more constructive forum. This will leave the organization looking quite silly, as well it should -- the rotting carcass of a once useful institution.

As you point out, anti-whaling has become an identity shaping issue in Australia and New Zealand, while for politicians worldwide it's a cost-free way to pretend to be doing something for the environment.

Anyway, with the media constantly peddling nonsense like this there is never going to be enlightened public opinion on whaling matters...

I had minke today, btw! A treat as always -- the trick, I've found, is to fry the steaks on the pan and then grill them in the oven for about 10 minutes.
Hi David,

I just wanted to say thank you for an excellent blog! Really, it is an invaluable source of English-language information on the topic of whaling.

I myself have recently become somewhat involved in the issue on Facebook (groan, I know) after starting a group entitled 'Sorry guys, but there are NO good arguments against whaling'!

I've posted a link to your blog there, although I unfortunately mis-described you as an Australian -- don't worry, being from NZ myself, I hastily added a correction! :-)

Anyway, thanks again for a really top-notch blog.


Pistachio Nut (my nom-de-guerre)
Japan wants to start commercial whaling?

Then spread the word.

Japanese whaling ships will start to become permanently docked on the ocean floor.

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