Tokyo first denied report by Kyodo news agency that government will reveal its decision by the end of the year, but then admits - see update below.

Japan says its official position on commercial whaling and the International Whaling Commission (IWC) has not changed. Photograph: JEREMY SUTTON-HIBBERT / HANDOUT/EPA

Japan is to withdraw from the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and resume commercial whaling next year, a report claimed on Thursday, in a move that drew condemnation from Australia, with other anti-whaling nations expected to follow suit.

Japan will inform the IWC of its decision by the end of the year, Kyodo news agency said, months after the body rejected its latest bid to resume commercial whaling.

Kyodo quoted unnamed government sources as saying Japan would abandon its controversial, and expensive, expeditions to the Southern Ocean and instead permit whaling fleets to operate in its coastal waters and exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

A fisheries agency official denied the report, however, insisting no decision had been taken on whether to withdraw from the IWC, which banned commercial whaling in 1986. {* tuned out to be a false denial}

“Japan’s official position, that we want to resume commercial whaling as soon as possible, has not changed,” the official told the Guardian. “But reports that we will leave the IWC are incorrect.”

Australia’s environment minister, Melissa Price, said it remained opposed to “all forms of commercial and so-called ‘scientific whaling’”, adding: “While we would strongly prefer Japan to remain a party to the convention and a member of the commission, the decision to withdraw is a matter for Japan.”

Agence France-Presse quoted an official as saying the agency was “considering all options”, including the possible withdrawal from the 89-member commission. A foreign ministry official confirmed “all options are on the table but nothing formal has been decided yet”.

Conservation campaigners welcomed the possible end to whaling in the Southern Ocean but warned that by withdrawing from the IWC, Japan risked becoming a “pirate whaling nation”.

“We would like to wholeheartedly celebrate an end to Japan’s whaling in the Southern Ocean, but if Japan leaves the International Whaling Commission and continues killing whales in the north Pacific it will be operating completely outside the bounds of international law,” said Nicola Beynon, head of campaigns at Humane Society International in Australia.

“This is the path of a pirate whaling nation, with a troubling disregard for international rule.”

Darren Kindleysides, chief executive of the Australian Marine Conservation Society, said: “Leaving the IWC would set a very dangerous precedent for other international treaties and conventions. Not satisfied with harpooning whales, it now looks like Japan is threatening to harpoon the future of the IWC.

“The IWC has become the driving force for global whale conservation efforts in the 21st century. If Japan is serious about the future of the world’s whales, they would not leave the IWC.”

Japan has previously threatened to quit the IWC, arguing that the moratorium was supposed to be a temporary measure and accusing the IWC of abandoning its original purpose – managing the sustainable use of global whale stocks.

Japanese officials claim that populations of certain types of whale – such as the minke – have recovered sufficiently to allow the resumption of “sustainable” hunting.

At September’s IWC meeting in Florianópolis, Brazil, anti-whaling nations led by Australia, the European Union and the US voted down a Japanese proposal to change the decision-making process – a move that would have made it easier for Japan to secure enough votes to end the commercial whaling ban.

The defeat prompted Japan’s IWC commissioner, Joji Morishita, to warn that the country’s differences with anti-whaling nations were “very clear” and that it would plan its “next step”.

Japan has been able to use a clause in the IWC moratorium allowing it to conduct “research” hunts every year and to sell whale meat on the open market, although consumption has plummeted in recent decades.

Japan faced criticism earlier this year after reporting that its whaling fleet had killed 122 pregnant whales during its annual research hunt in the Southern Ocean last winter. Of the 333 minke whales caught during the four-month expedition, 181 were female – including 53 juveniles.

In 2014, the international court of justice ordered Japan to halt its annual hunts in the Southern Ocean after concluding that they were not, as Japanese officials had claimed, conducted for scientific research.

But Japan resumed whaling in the region two years later under a revamped programme that included reducing its catch quota by about two-thirds.

Japan would join Iceland and Norway in openly defying the ban on commercial whale hunting.

 

UPDATE:

Japan to resume commercial whaling in 2019, defying decades-old intl moratorium

Japanese Whae Butchers often also slaughter pregnant females

26.12.2018 - RT - Following years of “scientific” whaling, Japan’s whalers will resume commercial operations in 2019, according to a government decision. It defies a 1986 international moratorium on hunting endangered species.

Tokyo has decided to leave the International Whaling Commission (IWC), meaning that Japanese whalers will be able to resume commercial hunting for the first time in over 30 years. Japan will officially inform the IWC of its decision by year’s end and the withdrawal will come into effect by June 30.

Yoshihide Suga, chief cabinet secretary, assured the public that commercial whaling “will be limited to Japan’s territorial waters and exclusive economic zones.” He said the country’s ships will not hunt in the Antarctic or in the southern hemisphere, which was the main source of concern for  Australia.

The announcement was not surprising, as it comes after the IWC declined Japan’s request to allow its fishermen to hunt minke and other whales protected by the organization. But environmentalists accused Tokyo of using a “sneaky” timing to avoid condemnation.

“It’s clear that the government is trying to sneak in this announcement at the end of year, away from the spotlight of international media, but the world sees this for what it is,” Greenpeace Japan said in a statement.

It warned that high-end technology led to overfishing in Japanese waters and high seas, resulting in “the depletion of many whale species.” Most whale populations have not yet recovered, the NGO said, adding that the list includes “larger whales such as blue whales, fin whales and sei whales.”

From a technological point of view, modern-day whaling involves using explosive harpoons. The projectile is typically launched from cannon, penetrating the whale’s hide and exploding. Whalers usually target the head of a whale, inflicting heavy brain damage and knocking the giant mammal out, or instantly killing it.

In past years, hundreds of whales were killed in what Japanese officials called “research” or “scientific”efforts. Nevertheless, so-called scientific research hunts were exceptionally allowed under a controversial clause in the Antarctic Treaty.

Japan is not the first country to resume commercial whaling, as it joins Iceland and Norway in openly defying the IWC's 1986 ban. Earlier in April, Icelandic fishermen set a target of 191 kills for the season, drawing international criticism.

Whaling is a thorny issue in Japanese society, where the tradition of hunting marine mammals has existed for centuries. Whale meat was vital in post-WWII Japan but its consumption dropped significantly as the country became wealthier during the following decades.

However, Japan’s conservative government argues that there is a need to pass whaling culture on to the next generation. Many members of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Liberal Democratic Party do support whaling, and he himself comes from a constituency where whale hunting remains popular.