Japan to start commercial whaling again next year

Government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said commercial whaling would be restricted to Japanese territorial waters and economic zones.

Australia and New Zealand welcomed the decision to abandon the Antarctic whale hunt, but expressed disappointment that Japan would engage in any killing of the ocean mammals. In 1987, Japan switched to what is calls research whaling, but the program has been criticized as a cover for commercial hunting since the meat is sold on the market at home.

"The declaration today is out of step with the worldwide community, let alone the protection needed to safeguard the future of our oceans and these majestic creatures", said Sam Annesley, executive director at Greenpeace Japan.

The move on Wednesday, which is expected to draw worldwide criticism, came more than three months after the global body for the conservation of whales rejected a Tokyo-led proposal to lift a 32-year ban on the commercial hunting of the mammals.

"The whaling will be conducted in accordance with global law and within the catch limits calculated in accordance with the method adopted by the IWC to avoid negative impact on cetacean resources", he said.

Two countries including Canada and Iceland have withdrawn from the worldwide bod, with the latter re-joining in 2003 after leaving in 1992.

The IWC, which imposed a commercial moratorium in the 1980s due to a dwindling whale population, rejected Tokyo's request to resume commercial whaling in September.

It was not yet clear how many whales would be caught each year once Japan resumes commercial whaling, officials said. Japan was the only country with an ambition to return to commercial whaling in the Antarctic Ocean.

Japan also suggested in 2007 that it might withdraw from the IWC in protest at the ban on commercial whaling but it was later persuaded by the United States and other countries to remain in the organisation.

Japan announces IWC withdrawal to resume commercial whaling
Japan withdraws from International Whaling Commission

Critics say it's long past time for commercial whaling to end.

Hiroshi Kameyama, mayor of Ishinomaki, said the government's IWC withdrawal decision was a "big surprise".

A number of coastal communities in Japan have hunted whales for centuries, but consumption in the country surged only after World War Two when whales were the main source of meat.

Japan has caught between about 200 and 1,200 whales each year, saying it is investigating stock levels to see whether the whales are endangered or not.

Japan chose to withdraw from the organization since its calls for the whaling resumption due to the growing number of whales had not been supported by other states in the IWC, the NHK World broadcaster reported.

"But if we don't explain internationally that whales are increasing. people won't understand", she added. And, it will stop hunting in Antarctic waters and the southern hemisphere.

Whale hunting has become a rare thorny subject in Japan's otherwise largely amiable foreign policy, with global opposition only prompting conservatives to dig in deeper in support of the tradition.

Tokyo has repeatedly threatened to pull out of the body, and has been regularly criticised for catching hundreds of whales a year for "scientific research" despite being a signatory to a moratorium on hunting the animals.

  • Joey Payne