Japan cuts its whaling hunt short. Will it be the last?

by Junichi Sato

February 22, 2011

Stop Whaling

On February 18, 2011, the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries announced that they are ending this year’s Antarctic whaling season early, and have called the fleet back to port.

This is fantastic news, and not a moment too soon. It’s another nail in the whaling program’s coffin, and hopefully the precursor to a future government announcement that will end Japan’s Antarctic whaling for once and for all.

For the past decade, my colleagues at Greenpeace Japan and I have been one of many people working to end Japan’s whaling by raising awareness of the issue inside Japan. One of the ways we’ve done this is to show the Japanese public the corruption that is rife inside the whaling industry. It’s Japanese taxpayer’s money that is continuing to bankroll ocean destruction, through the subsidies required to put the fleet to sea every year.

As Japanese people become more aware of the corruption that has been propping their government’s bogus “scientific” whaling, they are also becoming increasingly more vocal about ending it.

Nearly three years ago, we brought attention to one of the scandals that been instrumental in propping up the ailing whaling industry: the routine and endemic distribution of expensive whale meat cuts to Japanese officials, and theft by crew members. Whaling industry people were lining their pockets with cash, and the public were picking up the bill.

Toru Suzuki and I intercepted a box containing over 20kg of this meat, labeled as cardboard, and delivered it to the Tokyo Prosecutor’s office. This event changed my life forever – instead of investigating the corruption inside the whaling industry; the authorities arrested us, held us for over three weeks, charged us with theft of the box and convicted us.

Toru and I are currently appealing our convictions, but still face the possibility of a year in prison. On the up side, our case has meant that we’re still in touch with whistle-blowers inside the whaling industry, who are telling me that lack of demand is pushing the industry to the verge of bankruptcy.

And in December, several Fisheries Agency officials publicly apologized for taking whale meat as gifts; the second in command of the agency subsequently left his job. We are seeing many signs that Japan no longer wants to go whaling; its current economic climate is just the tip of the iceberg.

This year’s whaling season was always going to be a short one; the fleet didn’t leave port until December, and with one less catcher boat. Our whaling informants had said that the fleet was planning to return early, with less than half of its quota because of the ridiculously excessive stockpile of frozen whale meat that as of December 2010 totalled some 5,000 sitting in coldstores.

Athough we forecast back in December that the whaling fleet would be home early, just as we’ve known for years that Japan’s whaling would eventually  end,  it is really exciting to see it unfolding right now.

As we’ve said before, it is not a matter of if Japan’s Antarctic whaling would end, but rather when it will end. There is still a great deal to be done and considerable pressure that we here in Japan must keep on our officials to ensure that whaling finally ends, just  as our friends around the world must keep up pressure on their governments to continue making it clear to Japan that whaling must stop permanently.

But I will always remember today as a landmark moment in the demise of my country’s whaling program. When Toru and I appear again in court on May 24th to hear about our fate and get a better sense of how Japanese society will view civil dissent, I will be sure that my efforts – and the efforts of others – have not been in vain and that Antarctic whaling will not survive much longer.

Junichi Sato is the Executive Director of Greenpeace Japan

>> Read more about our campaign to end whaling.

By Junichi Sato

Junichi Sato is the executive director of Greenpeace Japan and one of the "Tokyo Two" arrested following an investigation into the whale meat trade in Japan.

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