Japan announces IWC withdrawal to resume commercial whaling

A minke whale is unloaded at a port after a whaling for scientific purposes in Kushiro

Japan says it is leaving the International Whaling Commission to resume commercial hunts but says it will no longer go to the Antarctic to hunt.

IWC introduced a suspension on all commercial whaling in 1982 due to a dwindling whale population with Japan joining six years later - switching their focus to "research whaling".

Kazutaka Sangen, mayor of Taiji, a central Japanese town known for dolphin hunts, welcomed the decision and vowed to stick with scientific way of stock management so that Japan's position on whaling can gain understanding from the worldwide community.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said on Wednesday that Japan's commercial whaling will be limited to its territorial and economic waters.

The Humane Society also said it's concerned that Japan's withdrawal could lead other IWC members to follow suit - possibly reviving the whaling industry and posing renewed threats to humpback, fin and other protected whales.

A Japanese whaling ship leaves the port of Shimonoseki in Yamaguchi prefecture, western Japan to resume whale hunting in the Antarctic.

Tokyo argues that whaling is an important part of Japan's traditions, and Suga said the withdrawal would allow fishermen to "pass our country's rich whaling culture onto the next generation".

"Even after the withdrawal, I hope both whales and other fishery resources can be used sustainably under proper management, based on the accumulated data", Ebina said.

The government said the decision not to hunt in the Southern Ocean, where Australia provides protection, would ensure the Antarctic "will finally be true sanctuaries for all whales".

Whale meat was vital in post-WWII Japan but its consumption dropped significantly as the country became wealthier during the following decades.

Influential lawmakers in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Liberal Democratic Party whose constituencies include whaling communities have long lobbied for a resumption of commercial whaling.

Much of the meat ends up in shops, even though most Japanese no longer eat it. Whale consumption accounted for 0.1 percent of all Japanese meat consumption, according to the Asahi newspaper.

"Regrettably, we have reached a decision that it is impossible in the IWC to seek the co-existence of states with different views", Suga said.

While noting that the number of people who have the skills to butcher whales has declined over the past 30 years, he said, "From now on, each company in the Ayukawa district will have to make its own efforts".

Japan will leave the International Whaling Commission, which put a moratorium on commercial whaling in the 1980s.

Japan is the biggest financial contributor to the IWC, which may now have to find ways to replace lost funding. The government said it would also stop hunting the ocean mammals in the Antarctic, in the latest chapter of the controversial practice, which has received worldwide criticism.

Last season, its scientific research expeditions caught almost 600 whales in the Antarctic and the northwest Pacific.

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