Japanese rally to resume whaling before IWC meet
TOKYO - Crowds of Japanese keen to see the resumption of commercial whaling marched through Tokyo yesterday as lawmakers munched on whale meat to tout Japan\'s view that eating the delicacy is a cherished cultural tradition.
Furious debate on the topic of commercial whaling is set to erupt in little over a week when delegates gather for the main session of the annual International Whaling Commission meeting in the southwestern Japanese city of Shimonoseki on May 20.
Carrying balloons and banners reading: \"Resume Whaling! Fight on, Japan,\" a crowd that organisers said numbered some 600, including some women in traditional kimonos, marched through streets near Tokyo\'s government district.
\"We\'ll eat whale! We\'ll eat whale!\" some shouted defiantly as they walked behind a giant black whale balloon.
Japan, along with fellow whaler Norway, agrees with protecting endangered species but argues that others, such as the minke whale, are in no danger of dying out and that hunting within limits should be allowed.
Tokyo also maintains that eating whale, regarded as a gourmet delicacy, is an important part of its cultural heritage despite protests from environmentalists focused on protecting endangered species and preventing the slaughter of the intelligent mammals.
\"Anti-whaling groups say it\'s barbaric to eat whale,\" ruling Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Shunichi Suzuki told the gathering. \"Actually, telling other countries what they can eat is cultural imperialism.\"
Japan, which abandoned commercial whaling in 1986 to comply with an IWC moratorium, has aroused international ire by carrying out what it calls scientific research whaling since 1987.
The meat ends up in stores and on restaurant tables, although high prices and low supply have made it a rare treat.
Some 40 lawmakers, including Agriculture Minister Tsutomu Takebe, devoured whale in a cetacean repast from which foreign media were barred.
\"We invited overseas media to a similar event in the past, but the images were not used fairly,\" said an organiser.
The IWC meeting moves into high gear from May 20 with a week of plenary sessions in which a vote on the whaling issue, and heated debate over Japan\'s expanded hunt for the next season, are expected.
Despite Japan\'s fervour, chances of lifting the moratorium this year are slim, since a three-quarters majority of the 43 IWC members would have to vote in favour for that to happen.
But the distance between the two sides has gradually narrowed, and Japanese officials say they hope to gain a simple majority, which they say would be a significant, albeit symbolic, step forward.
Japanese officials blame whales for falling fish catches, saying the mammoth mammals consume such vast amounts of fish that they have contributed to a drop in Japanese fish landings by half, to six million tonnes, in the last 20 years.
This has sparked stark portrayals by pro-whaling groups of whales pitted against humans for cherished, and dwindling, fish in one of the world\'s largest fish-eating nations.
Anti-whalers and others outside Japan suggest that factors such as overfishing and pollution have taken a larger toll.
Analysing what whales eat is a key part of Japan\'s whaling programme, the government says.
This is one reason behind the expansion of plans for this year\'s hunt in the North Pacific, which has sparked outrage by including the 12-to 17-metre pointed-snout sei whales - said by conservationists to be endangered - for the first time.
The proposed hunt sharply raises the number of minkes to be taken, to 150 from 100 in the season just ended. It also plans to take 50 Bryde\'s whales and 10 sperm whales.
Japan also takes around 400 minkes in Antarctica each year.
The issue has sparked worldwide controversy and is expected to be a hot topic at the IWC sessions later this month.
On Tuesday, 18 IWC members - including noted anti-whaling nations such as Australia, Britain and the United States - issued a statement saying they strongly rejected Japan\'s plans and urging it to hold back.
\"As member states of the IWC, our governments consider Japan\'s actions as undermining the authority of the IWC, and as designed to undo the decades of progress that have achieved the substantial level of protection that whales enjoy today,\" they said in a statement issued by the U.S. Embassy.
\"Our governments reaffirm their strong commitment to the conservation of whales, while at the same time rejecting commercial whaling.\"
Story by Elaine Lies
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
Komentáře k článku. Co si myslí ostatní?