Japan deal to scale down scientific whaling

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Japan plans to propose scaling down its annual ‘scientific’ Antarctic whale hunt if it is allowed to step up commercial whaling in its own coastal waters instead, a fisheries official said Wednesday.

Tokyo will present its proposal to the International Whaling Commission (IWC) at its annual meeting in Morocco in June, the official said, even though a similar plan was rejected by the 85-nation body last year.

“We have been studying ways to reach a packaged agreement and to normalise the IWC activities,” said the Fisheries Agency official who declined to provide specific details of Tokyo’s proposal. “The efforts continue today.”

Japanese whalers kill hundreds of the mammals a year in Antarctic waters where their fleet has clashed in recent months with militant environmental activists of the Sea Shepherd society.

Commercial whaling has been banned worldwide since 1986, but Japan justifies its hunts as scientific research, although it does not hide the fact that the whale meat is later sold in shops and restaurants.

At last year’s IWC talks in Portugal, anti-whaling countries rejected Japan’s offer to scale down its south Pacific culls if it is allowed to commercially hunt 150 minke whales a year in its coastal waters.

Agriculture Minister Hirotaka Akamatsu this month said he would like to submit the proposal personally at the IWC, and that Japanese officials were already in talks with other nations as they seek a compromise agreement.

“If possible, I myself would go to an IWC meeting and propose and demand approval for the commercial catching of minke whales along Japanese coasts,” he told reporters last week, saying Japan is ready for some compromises.

The IWC was set up in 1946 by 15 whale-hunting nations to manage a whale population being threatened by the fishing industry. The body now has 85 members and has taken an increasingly conservationist approach.

In 1986, it instituted a ban on commercial whaling that still stands today.

The body has been deadlocked in recent years by divisions between countries such as Japan that say the dangers of whaling are exaggerated and other nations like Australia which want the whaling ban to be kept in place.