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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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IWC 60 to start

IWC 60 in Santiago is about to get underway.

Plenary documents are here. Included is, in addition to the Agenda document (introduced previously here), a document outlining the agenda for a pre-plenary meeting for "Discussions on the Future of the IWC" (here). Some others that may be of interest is this one from an outside expert (here) and a related document from Norway (here). Just my recommendations...

The meeting schedule is here.

The Scientific Committee report should be available on Monday, but documents submitted to the meeting and available online are here. Lots of interesting reading there for those so inclined. A particular focus of this year's meeting was said to be the consideration of abundance estimates for Antarctic minke whales. From the documents noted, it seems that only one document presented specifically introduced abundance estimates, this one here.

If you are in the right sort of time zone and are so inclined, you can watch the proceedings on line here.




International whale meat trade resumption

I mentioned recently that Japan might make clear it's intentions regarding the import of Icelandic and Norwegian whale products once the situation with the IWC has been cleared up.

Well, I was wrong there, as has widely been reported in both the Western and Japanese media. Whale products from Iceland and Norway were said to have already arrived in Japan, although the paperwork to complete the import appears yet to be finalized.

Ministry of Agriculture officials noted that there is no legal problem with the import of whale meat from Iceland and Norway, although they noted that had not received any import request. At a press conference, one reporter asked the vice-minister whether the Ministry would tell the media if such an import request were received. The official responded that such a transaction is a matter between private entities in different states, and he did not think it necessary to announce to the media every single such matter.

The Daily Suisan Keizai newspaper apparently ran an article on the topic, with some interesting points:
(a copy of the article was posted here)

At this stage, there is still only 60 ~ 80 tons of meat, according to the reports, so this won't have a huge impact on whale meat stockpile statistics, at least at this point in time.

* * *

Update 6/19 to add some links.

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Whale meat stockpile update - April 2008

MAFF's "Statistics on Distribution of Frozen Fishery Products" April edition was released on the 10th (PDF, Excel).

Last time for March we saw that there was no visible impact in the stock statistics due to the docking in Tokyo of the Oriental Bluebird at the tail end of the month, and I had a few guesses for reasons for this.

This month there's no doubt that the "by-product" offloaded from the Nisshin Maru was moved into storage facilities, as the figures below illustrate.

As for the meat from the Oriental Bluebird, it's still not clear as the ICR is yet to announce the total amount of by-product (as of today, but an announcement will probably come out shortly).

* UPDATE: Details of the ICR release are here *

April 2008 outgoing stock: 749 tons

Outgoing stock volume is starting to ramp up a bit more now, these 749 tons representing an 81% higher level than for April 2007.

April 2008 incoming stock: 2,021 tons

This would appear to be the "by-product" from the Nisshin Maru, and as we will see further below, most of this increase (perhaps as much as 1,886 tons) has shown up in the so-called "consumption" area of Tokyo. 135 tons of meat also moved into storage facilities in other so-called "production" regions.

April 2008 end-of-month stockpile: 3,640 tons

The outgoing stock figure of 749 offset the 2,021 tons of incoming stock to result in a figure well below 4,000 tons, even after the Nisshin Maru whale meat hit the stockpile figures.

According to the statistics released, of those storage facilities included in both the April 2007 stats and the April 2008 stats, total volume of whale meat stored was 5% lower in 2008 than in 2007. Recall that changes to the survey this year mean the reported figures aren't exactly comparable, but still, if one regards the survey as indicative then stock levels are lower than at the same time last year.

April 2008 top stockpile regions

The top stockpile regions, their stockpile levels and movement since the previous month are shown in the table below:

Stockpile size at
month end
Stockpile size at
previous month end
Tokyo city wards2,115

Tokyo was the big mover this month, with the big increase that we can put down to the Nisshin Maru by-product moving Tokyo back to the number one stockpile region.

Ishinomaki saw a large decrease in it's outstanding stockpile, as did Kushiro.

The other interesting feature this month is the appearance of Kawasaki at position seven. Of the statistics I have for Kawasaki from 2001 to 2005, no stock was ever reported in this region. Kawasaki, like near-by Tokyo, is a so-called "consumption" region. This is definitely an increase for Kawasaki that put it into 7th place (as opposed to a decrease in leading regions), as last month Hakodate rounded out the top seven with 89 tons. Hakodate does not feature in the top seven list this month, so how much stock is there now is unknown at the moment.

Graph: Annual volumes

Things are now starting to shape up in 2008.

Graph: Monthly volumes

Overall stockpile figure is back up again this month, although as noted above, even taking into consideration the change in survey specification, with 5% less in stock this year than at the same time last year.

Graph: Outgoing stock (cumulative)

As we see from this graph, April's outgoing stock figure is the highest on record in recent times.

Graph: Incoming stock (cumulative)

In terms of incoming stock, so far 2008 is shaping up to look very similar to 2005. However, it's possible that not all the JARPA by-product is included in the figures for 2008, so there might be more in reality.

Graph: Regional whale meat stockpiles

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May 2008 figures will be out on July 10.



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