Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Japan's Whaling Industry Setback: what conservationists do next is critical

The past several weeks have seen a considerable amount of media attention over the decision by Japan to curtail its annual Antarctic whale hunt ahead of schedule. This has been due in no small part to the actions of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society in disrupting the Japanese whale fleet's activities through harassment and intervention. The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has been dogging the Japanese fleet for many years while the island nation hunted whales under a "whale research" loophole in the regulations put forth by the International Whaling Commission (IWC).

I have gone on record as not being an advocate of the kind of attention-grabbing, eco-terrorist techniques employed by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. I believe that it polarizes the opposing parties and does not pave a way for reasonable negotiations - which, like it or not, is where the necessary economic and regulatory change comes about. But credit where credit is due. The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's efforts this season, while not as dramatic as in past seasons (with rammed ships, arrests, and calls for international prosecution), succeeded in reducing Japan's catch this year from an anticipated 850 minke whales and 50 fin whales to just 170 and 2, respectively. The Society deserves a hardy pat on the back.

The big question is: What next?

What will be Japan's strategy for 2012? This is a nation whose government and whaling industry is smarting and feeling very defensive over their cultural predilection toward whaling (indeed, toward commercial fishing in general) and their sense of national pride and indignation regarding verbal (and in the case of Sea Shepherd, physical) intervention from foreigners. One mustn't think that, based on this year's curtailed whaling season, Japan will be willing to throw in the towel.

However, there are several social and economic factors at work that may be pressuring the governing forces in Japan to begin to re-evaluate their position regarding whaling. In a recent article in Inter Press Service (IPS), Suvendrini Kakuchi reported,

"Despite campaigns to increase the sale of whale meat from minke whales, the local market has reported a reduction of 30 percent in 2010, according to the Tokyo-based Minato Newspaper quoting the publicly funded whaling company Koyodo Senpaku.

Whale meat is popular among older consumers in the sixties and above whose diet soon after World War II relied on whale as a protein.

But a 2008 September survey conducted by an independent organization under a request by Greenpeace Japan conservationists indicates that 70 percent of people between the ages of 15 to 39 years have not eaten whale meat.

The Japanese media has reported that 4,000 tonnes of excess whale meat was frozen and stored in warehouses in 2009."

Japan's government and regulatory agencies are inclined to maintain the cultural and historical status quo, but as younger generations begin to view whale consumption differently from generations past, that is producing some harsh economic realities that the industry will need to confront.

This provides a window of opportunity for delicate, non-combative diplomacy exercised by conservation groups, international agencies and individual countries. These forces have an opportunity to discuss with Japan the merits of sustainability, tighter fishery (and whaling) management, and perhaps work together on economic issues like shifting more resources towards developing, say, more environmentally efficient aquaculture.

Make no mistake, there is a tremendous opportunity here and there are even forces within Japan that are pressuring for a change. Some local governments are looking into establishing restricted or limited fishing as a means of maintaining sustainability of both the industry and marine species.

"The decision to call back the Japanese whaling fleet is based on low whale meat consumption locally, and other evidence that shows the industry is not sustainable," Prof. Toshio Katsura, marine biologist at Mie University told IPS.

But our response now must be a judicious one. Japan's whaling industry has sustained a serious blow this season and rather than gloat, we must carefully negotiate with the country's old guard, who are still very much in power both politically and commercially, to find ways to save face and set a new course in marine resource management.

Read the IPS article on Japan's whaling policy.


Shark Diver said...

Fat chance of any modification on behalf of the whale crazies. For them this is a zero sum game, flush with cash and a modicum of success (after 32 years of trying) they will press ahead.

Agreed that diplomacy is needed but I fear this moment will be squandered.

Look up "Hubris" on wiki and the site get's redirected to a video of Paul Watson being "shot in the chest" by whalers in 2008.

The shot that never happened, but a shot that secured him with a reality television show.

Seasoned Environmentalist said...

Well my comment wasn't posted. I wonder why?

The fact is that Sea Shepherd has been an incredibly effective environmental protection organization for its 33+ plus years of existence. It has shut down several whaling operations, and has made significant impact on the greed-driven slaughter of whales, seals, dolphins and fish all around the world.

You may disapprove of Sea Shepherd's methods. But their record is pretty impressive!

Countries and companies that profit from the destruction of species and the environment don't give a frickin' rat's ass about the ethics or morality of what they're doing. The only way to stop them or slow them down is to hit them in their pocketbook. The only value they recognize is the dollar, yen, ruble or whatever.

That's what Sea Shepherd is all about!

Anonymous said...

Piracy is what the Sea Shepherd is all about. They'll keep it up until someone gets killed.

Rockwarrier said...

It has for some time being obvious to me that a large portion of Japan's population don't see whales as something that should be killed, you only have to look at how many public areas now have live whales/dolphins on display and the amount of "cute' whale cartoons and toys sold.

Clearly its the old guard (older generation) who won't let the matter go, and getting the message to them is the key.

As for Sea Shepherd activists, regardless if you think their methods correct or not, there is no doubt that they have made a very substantial difference and if they had not been there I wonder what the health of whaling would currently be, certainly much stronger then now, with a lot more whales dead.

To "Shark Diver" (not a very appropriate name given the dangerously falling numbers of sharks) you need to understand the culture of Japan in regards their belief in their honor, they would not have responded to instructions they were in the wrong (as shown by their treatment of the 1986 agreement). So the need to make it a long term unprofitable activity has been required to make then consider stopping.

To this end the "whale crazies" as you put it have been necessary, and of course it has to be a zero sum game, because as long as there is a whale killing culture using special explosive weapons and ships (as against a native hunting using traditional methods that limit the catch to very small level) then it can very quickly climb back to current levels.

Within the next decade world fish stocks will collapse and many countries will look at the whales as something to use their factory size ships on. The non-whaling accord needs to be strong to do this and having Japan still whaling would undermine the resolution of other countries.