End of Japanese whaling may be in sight

Feature story - November 12, 2009
We've been watching the horizon for this one for a very long time, but our colleagues up in the crow's nest report that a new blip on the horizon could mean an end to Japanese whaling in Antarctica.

"I can see an end to whaling from here!"

A major review of Japanese government spending could spell the end to whaling in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. 

Commissioned to cut wasteful programmes by Japan's new government, a review committee has proposed massive cuts in subsidies to a body which funds the so-called whaling research programme.  

Without government subsidies, the whaling programme would be doomed.

The Spending Review Committee recommended that the Overseas Fisheries Cooperation Fund (OFCF), which gives loans to the Institute for Cetacean Research (ICR) to run the discredited science programme, have all of its funding revoked, except monies needed for loans in 2010. 

The OFCF claims it needs 70.4 billion yen (around US$780 million) for various programmes, including whaling, in 2010. The Review Committee and Cabinet Office will determine by early next year if the proposed operations for 2010 are actually "necessary" or should also be cut.

Waste of money? Well, yes...

Fact is, if the Review Committee wanted to know if whaling was a waste of taxpayers' money or not, they could have asked us. Our colleagues at Greenpeace Japan have been relentlessly attacking the whaling programme domestically for exactly that reason for quite some time now.

In particular, two activists, Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki, sparked a domestic debate in Japan in June 2008 when they revealed widespread corruption in the government-supported programme. They set off a backlash from powerful interests, and found themselves arrested for "stealing" whale meat which they had presented to police as evidence of embezzlement.

 

Junichi and Toru were arrested with the TV cameras rolling, and our Greenpeace offices were raided by police who seized supporter lists, documents, and computer disks in an attempt to intimidate our staff and supporters and deter our efforts.  Junichi and Toru still await trial and face up to ten years in prison for the "crime" of exposing a misuse of public money.

But despite the charges, they have not been quiet. Both activists have spoken out against the cost of the whaling programme and the fact that only a handful of fat-cat bureaucrats really profit from the programme. Last year alone it cost 8 billion yen, or nearly US$90  million, to run the annual Southern Ocean whale hunt. Of that, 1.2 billion yen, or more than US$10 million, came from government subsidies. The rest is in theory covered by the sales of whale meat.

Whaling is bad business

The Institute for Cetacean Research, which runs the whaling programme, has failed to repay government loans for several years now, as demand for whale meat has plummeted and the cost of whaling increased. Practises which would have lead to bankruptcy for any commercial firm have been the target of outspoken criticism not only from Greenpeace Japan, but from the business press and even the former spokesperson for the Japanese Foreign Ministry, Tomohiko Taniguchi.

Taniguchi lamented the financial propping up of a programme that caused endless headaches for Tokyo abroad and generated revenues worth "less than one-tenth the value of the country's annual market for toothbrushes."

With the change in government at the recent election, a new focus on reducing  spending and cutting wasteful programmes has meant a more sympathetic ear for whaling critics like Junichi and Toru. The Prime Minster recently shocked conservative politicians who equate whaling and patriotism by admitting that he disliked whale meat -- something that would have been an unthinkable admission for his predecessor.

Thirty+ years

Greenpeace has been fighting Japanese whaling for more than three decades, from the waters of the Southern Ocean to the online world to the courts of Japan.

We first brought whaling to the world's attention in 1975 when activists put their own lives on the line by navigating small inflatable boats in front of the harpoons.   We have opposed whaling operations in countries including Australia, Brazil, Chile, Peru, Iceland, Spain, Norway and Russia and exposed and shut down pirate whaling operations. 

Over the years, our tactics have widened to include consumer pressure -- which was crucial in getting western corporations such as Gortons Seafood to distance themselves from whaling,  financially isolating the whalers -- and domestic efforts in Japan aimed at communicating the cost of whaling to the 71 percent of the Japanese public that do not support it.  In 2008, we suspended our voyages to the Southern Oceans in favour of concentrating efforts on domestic pressure in Japan, including "Operation Silver Bullet" -- our ongoing investigation into whale meat embezzlement and scandals in the whaling industry.

Today, it seems that strategy is paying off.  All of us who have worked together on this issue for decades are holding our breath -- that an end to Japanese whaling could well be on the way.

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Ask the Japanese Supreme Public Prosecutor's office to reopen the investigation into whale meat embezzlement.

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