Reports: Japanese government gives in, slashes whale quotas

First ever reduction in minkes to be targetted by "research whaling"

Feature story - November 13, 2008
Good news for the whales comes in threes. And then you get a dollop of extra. Asahi Shimbun, one of Japan's biggest newspapers, reports there will be a 20 percent reduction in the number of whales targeted in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary hunt this year -- the first reduction since 1987.

Greenpeace challenges whaling in the Southern Ocean.

The report cites lack of demand for whale meat, pressure from protests at sea and the continued opposition from Europe and Australia as reasons for the reduction in the minke whale quota from 945 minke whales to 750. The quota of 50 endangered fin whales remains unchanged.

The news follows hard on the heels of Greenpeace revelations that theindustry has been unable to crew this year's voyage with anall-Japanese crew for the first time, that the traditional ceremonyseeing the fleet off from Shimonoseki has been cancelled, and that'Yushin,' the flagship whale meat shop and restaurant in Asakusa,Tokyo, will close shop in 2010 due to ongoing financial problems.

4,200 tonnes of unsold whale meat

In reports on the closing of the Yushin restaurant, the whalers cited a lack of supply, rather than a reduction in demand, as the reason for their financial problems.  But the Institute for Cetacean Research's own figures show 4,200 tonnes of whale meat sitting surplus in storage -- an increase over last year, and Asahi's article points to a trend that our own polling confirms: fewer and fewer Japanese people are eating whale meat.  

Those polls also confirm that very few Japanese citizens even know that their tax money is being used to prop up the whaling industry.  We're pushing that message out through our office in Japan, and believe that as the Japanese people learn more about how much whaling costs, and how corrupt the programme is, domestic pressure will become key in the government deciding to hang up the harpoons.

"We are seeing the beginning of the end of whaling in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary," said Sara Holden, our International Whales Campaigner "If today's reports are true we congratulate the Japanese government for making this first step, but they can and must go further and we will not stop until the quota is zero."

Years of campaigning paying off

The last time Japan reduced its take, it was due to the moratorium on commercial whaling, which we and a handful of other environmental groups fought long and hard to win from the world's oceans to the halls of the International Whaling Commission. That single piece of work has saved thelives of tens of thousands of whales and ended the whaling programmesof the Soviet Union, Brazil, Peru, Chile, and Spain.

Japan used a loophole which allows the killing of whales for "scientific research" to continue whaling in the Southern Ocean, though at a far reduced rate.

Greenpeace has sent ships to interfere with the hunt in the Southern Ocean nine times since the Japanese government research whaling programme in the Southern Ocean whale sanctuary began 20 years ago, including keeping them on the run for more than two weeks last season, saving hundreds of whales.

Winning in Japan

Opposition inside Japan is also growing thanks to the work of our Japanese office.

Earlier this year two Greenpeace activists in Japan were arrested for exposing corruption within the whaling programme.  Whaling in Japan has had little press attention, but that changed when we unveiled boxes of stolen whale meat on live television, prompting calls from Japan's media and the Tokyo public prosecutor for a full investigation of abuse of taxpayer's money.

Instead, our own activists were arrested.

The political prosecution of Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki has been denounced by Amnesty International and, in a periodic evaluation completed last month, the United Nations Human Rights Committee severely reprimanded the Japanese government for the "unreasonable restrictions placed on freedom of expression" in Japan. It also condemned the abuse of trespass laws by Japanese police to harass activists who are critical of government policy.

"The extreme reaction by the authorities shows Greenpeace's work in Japan has put the whaling establishment under pressure" said Jun Hoshikawa, Executive Director of Greenpeace Japan. "The whale meat market has clearly collapsed and is unprofitable, and the stigma of scandal and corruption has made it an unattractive and less lucrative industry to work for. The whaling industry's days are numbered, and it's time for the Japanese taxpayer to demand the government stops subsidising this bankrupt programme."

Take action

If Japan is going to start rounding up political prisoners for the crime of defending whales, they're going to have to arrest a whole heaping lot of us. Sign the petition to stand in solidarity with Junichi and Toru.

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