Photo/IllutrationA minke whale hunted in research whaling is unloaded in Kushiro, Hokkaido. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

While commercial whaling will resume in waters off Japan this summer, companies in the fisheries industry are unenthusiastic about the prospects given international criticism and tepid consumer interest.

"We have no plans to resume the whaling business," said a public relations official of Maruha Nichiro Corp., previously Taiyo Gyogyo K.K., which had engaged in commercial whaling in the Antarctic Ocean.

With sluggish demand for whale meat, it will be difficult to continue such practices, the official added.

The government decided to withdraw from the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in June 2019 and resume commercial whaling the following month after an extended moratorium of about 30 years.

A public relations official of Nippon Suisan Kaisha Ltd. also expressed little interest in the resumption, saying, “We have no plans to restart commercial whaling."

Kyodo Senpaku Co., the only company that expressed an intention to conduct offshore commercial whaling, is currently conducting research whaling with support from the government.

Major retailers, meanwhile, are increasingly cautious about handling whale meat, amid fears of a growing movement for environmental protection and a backlash from the international community.

Although supermarket chain operator Aeon Co. sells whale meat at some of its outlets, it has no plans to ramp up promotion of the product.

"We don't expect there to be demand at all our outlets. We therefore have no plans to expand sales of whale meat or hold special sales," an official said.

The International Court of Justice in 2014 ordered Japan to suspend research whaling. At the time, major online retailer Rakuten Inc. banned sales of whale meat.

'BIRTHPLACE OF WHALING'

Despite the tepid response to the policy change, the mayor of a whaling town in Wakayama Prefecture welcomed the decision to resume commercial whaling.

"We want to express gratitude from our heart over the government's decision," said Kazutaka Sangen, the mayor of Taiji in the prefecture.

Sangen made the comment in Tokyo on Dec. 26 after attending a meeting on whaling held by a group of Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers.

"We highly value the decision, as it was made to protect the lives of people involved in the fisheries industry. We will conduct ‘local whaling’ and ‘coastal whaling’ rather than ‘commercial whaling.’"

Hajime Ishikawa, who owns a restaurant in Tokyo that specializes in whale meat dishes, said that although he also supports the policy change, the government should have made the decision after making sufficient preparations to answer the question, “Why will Japan continue to hunt whales?”

Ishikawa, 39, opened Himitsukujira about four years ago after eating Baird’s beaked whale hunted off Chiba Prefecture and finding it delicious. He serves meat from whales hunted in waters around Japan.

According to Fisheries Agency statistics, there are about 3,000 tons of frozen whale meat currently stored in Japan, roughly the same as the country's annual consumption.

“Many Japanese people do not feel it is necessary or desirable to hunt whales and eat their meat," Ishikawa said. "If people put a high value on whale meat as food, the government’s judgment to withdraw from the IWC would be more understandable.”

About 233,000 tons of whale meat were consumed in fiscal 1962, when it was an important source of protein. In recent years, however, annual consumption has ranged between 3,000 tons and 5,000 tons. The decrease is mainly attributable to the shift from commercial to research whaling.

The IWC’s moratorium on commercial whaling was adopted in 1982, with Japan halting whaling for commercial purposes in 1988.

Commercial whaling, which is set to resume in July 2019, will comprise two pillars: one will be offshore whaling with a base in Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi Prefecture; the other will be coastal whaling with bases in Abashiri and Kushiro in Hokkaido, Hachinohe in Aomori Prefecture, Ishinomaki in Miyagi Prefecture, Minami-Boso in Chiba Prefecture, and Taiji in Wakayama Prefecture.