Japan may have decided to leave the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in order to take back up commercial whale hunting again for the first time in three decades. According to NPR and Japanese media outlets, the country plans to make a formal announcement in the next few days indicating its plans to begin whaling in its coastal waters.
Currently, Japanese whaling ships in the Antarctic and Pacific waters kill hundreds of whales each year for what Japan calls research expeditions, but the practice of commercial whale hunting was banned in 1982 by the IWC after whale populations were driven near extinction. Japan stopped commercial whaling in 1988 in line with that decision. Since then, Japan has attempted to resume hunting whales like minke, whose populations have recovered, despite the fact that whale meat consumption has dropped in the country. As recently as September 2018, Japan attempted to petition for commercial hunting, but their request was denied by the IWC at its annual meeting in Brazil.
Now, insiders say that the country plans to cite recovering populations as justification for renewing its hunting practices. Sources within the government say that the country plans to notify the IWC of their decision by January 1. However, a fisheries official in Kyoto told the Guardian that the reports are inaccurate.
"Japan's official position, that we want to resume commercial whaling as soon as possible, has not changed," the official said. "But reports that we will leave the IWC are incorrect."
Reports say that Japan will discontinue its scientific expeditions in the Antarctic and Pacific and will instead hunt in its own waters and exclusive economic zone. Nicola Beynon, a spokesperson for the Humane Society International in Australia, says they would celebrate Japan's move to stop hunting in Southern oceans, but that killing whales in its coastal waters would violate the law and are the actions of a "pirate whaling nation."
"[I[f 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 Beynon.Conservationists say that leaving the IWC would set a dangerous precedent. Sam Annesley, executive director at Greenpeace Japan, called the decision a "grave mistake."
"This snub to multilateralism is unacceptable," said Annesley. "We hope that Japan will reverse its decision and take its place beside the nations trying to undo the damage human activities have done to whale populations."
The IWC told NPR that it hasn't received any formal word on the country's decision as of yet.