A slaughtered minke whale is unloaded at a port during a Japan whale poaching hunt in Kushiro, Hokkaido. Photo: Kyodo News / AP

By Yoko Wakatsuki and Sophie Brown
25 April 2014

(CNN) – Japan is set to go ahead with some of its whaling activities even though a recent international court ruling ordered the country to end its whale hunt in the Antarctic.

The East Asian nation halted its annual Antarctic whaling mission after the U.N.'s International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled last month the hunt violated an international moratorium on commercial whaling.

The Japanese fisheries ministry announced last week it would still proceed with a smaller research program in the northwest Pacific.

The mission's departure, originally scheduled for April 22, was postponed until after a state visit by U.S. President Barack Obama, according to local media reports. The whaling fleet is now expected to leave Japan's shore on Saturday.

Japan is also making preparations for a new proposal which could see its whaling fleet return to the Antarctic as early as next year, the ministry said.

Both announcements by the ministry sparked renewed anger among environmentalists, who say Japan's research program is a thinly-veiled attempt to circumvent a ban on the commercial whale meat trade.

The head of Greenpeace Japan, Junichi Sato, said the fisheries ministry's latest announcement was a "huge disappointment" that flew in the face of the U.N. court's ruling and threatened to "damage Japan's international standing."

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's founder Captain Paul Watson was skeptical the revised plan reflected a sincere attempt by Japan to ensure the whale hunt produced valuable research.

"If they do it as a genuine scientific program they won't be able to kill very many whales and it wouldn't be worthwhile for them to go down there (to the Antarctic)," he said.

Although few people in Japan regularly eat whale meat, many support the controversial whaling research program. A survey, released by the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun earlier this week, found that 60% of respondents thought the research whaling should continue, while around 23% said the practice should stop.

Almost half of those who thought the research should continue said they didn't eat whale meat. Only 4% said they consumed whale meat "occasionally" while 10% said they ate it on "rare occasions," according to Asahi Shimbun.

Japan's Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry said the catch from the upcoming Pacific mission would be reduced from 380 whales to 210 and nonlethal methods for carrying out the research would be explored, according to a statement released by the ministry last week.

In a separate statement, fisheries minister Yoshimasa Hayashi said Japan would conduct research whaling "based on international law and scientific evidence," while firmly maintaining its policy of "aiming for the resumption of commercial whaling." [more]

Japanese whaling fleet set to sail despite recent ruling

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