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  Channel NewsAsia 4 Apr 06
Environmentalists hail victory as Japanese firms quit whaling

National Geographic 3 Apr 06
Japanese Firms Quit Whaling
Stefan Lovgren for National Geographic News

The five Japanese fishing companies that owned the nation's whaling fleet recently announced that they're getting out of the whaling business.

Anti-whaling organizations called the announcement a "victory" for their movement. "This is an important milestone as we continue our work to end whaling once and for all," said John Hocevar, an oceans specialist with activist group Greenpeace, who is based in Austin, Texas.

Nissui, Japan's second largest marine products company, and four other firms jointly owned whaling company Kyodo Senpaku. This business operated the six-ship whaling fleet on behalf of the Institute of Cetacean Research under the authority of the Japanese government.

All five firms say they will "soon donate" their shareholdings in Kyodo Senpaku to public organizations, including the government-backed research institute.

The Japanese government, meanwhile, vowed to press on with its controversial annual whale hunt.


Environmentalists say Japan's whale-hunting activities are cruel and risk bringing already threatened whale species to extinction.

The hunt has pitted Japan against political allies such as the United States, the European Union, and Australia.

A global moratorium on whaling was agreed to by most international governments in 1986. Using a loophole in that ban, Japanese fishers have continued to kill whales under an allowance for scientific research.

But the island nation's officials make no secret of the fact that most of the meat ends up in restaurants and grocery stores.

Whaling proponents have campaigned aggressively to have the moratorium lifted, arguing that whale populations have recovered to sustainable levels during the ban.

The Japanese government announced last year that it would increase its annual kill to about 850 whales, mainly from the South Pacific population of Minke whales. Meanwhile, environmental activists have dogged the Japanese whaling fleet, and groups like Greenpeace have launched letter campaigns and threatened to blacklist seafood companies associated with the whaling activities.

Now Nissui and the four other seafood firms say they will transfer their whaling-related holdings to public organizations, effectively removing private interest in whaling activities.

Greenpeace's Hocevar sees the development as a death knell for the industry. "There is no future left for whaling, certainly no room for expansion, when even the large seafood companies are not interested in being associated with whaling anymore," he said.

Pressing On

The Japanese government, however, says whale meat carries great cultural significance among the nation's people. Officials there said the whaling activities would continue and that the same number of animals would be killed each year.

"The transfer of the shares in the whaling firm will not affect our policies at all," Hideki Moronuki, an official in charge of whaling for Japan's Fisheries Agency, told the AFP news agency.

"Rather, we welcome the move," Moronuki said. "From now on, whaling will be regarded as something backed by all of Japan, not just a particular group in the private sector."

It's unclear, however, what impact the seafood companies' decision to pull out of the whaling business will have on the practice's commercial future.

Anti-whaling activists say the demand for whale meat in Japan has dwindled, especially among young people.

What's more, Hocevar says, the organizations taking over the shares aren't as well equipped as the private firms to process whale catches on a large scale. Nissui has the capacity to produce 10 to 20 million cans of whale meat per year, according to Hocevar.

"The real question is whether Japanese public organizations can justify--or even have the capacity--to can, market, and sell whale meat in that quantity," he said. "It seems unlikely."

Channel NewsAsia 4 Apr 06
Environmentalists hail victory as Japanese firms quit whaling

TOKYO : Environmentalists have hailed a victory as key Japanese firms quit the whaling business after a pressure campaign, although the government vowed no change to its controversial annual hunt.

Fishing giant Nissui and four other firms that have owned whaling company Kyodo Senpaku will "soon donate" all of their shareholdings in the firm to public interest corporations, a Kyodo Senpaku spokesman said on Monday.

Its new shareholders will include the Institute of Cetacean Research, the Japanese government-backed agency promoting whaling. Environmental group Greenpeace had launched a letter campaign and threatened to blacklist non-whale products distributed worldwide by Nissui.

The whaling exit marks a rare victory for environmentalists in Japan, which has ignored years of angry protests elsewhere in the world and last year doubled its annual whale kill in the Antarctic.

"This decision completely demolishes the commercial foundation of the Japanese whaling industry," Greenpeace campaigns manager Danny Kennedy said in a statement. "It is clear that even in Japan the message is getting through that whaling is bad for business, leaving the Japanese government trying to restart an industry that no one wants a part of," he said.

Nissui - Japan's second-largest seafood company owning shares in New Zealand-based Sealord and Gorton's of the United States - said it would stop distributing and selling whale meat.

"When our stockpile runs out, we will stop producing canned whale meat, which is our sole whale-related production and a very small portion of our business," a Nissui spokesman said.

Asked if the decision was influenced by the Greenpeace campaign, the spokesman only said: "We have no comment on anything related to Greenpeace statements."

But the Japanese government, which accuses Western anti-whaling campaigners of not respecting the national culture, vowed to press on.

"The transfer of the shares in the whaling firm will not affect our policies at all," said Hideki Moronuki, an official in charge of whaling for Japan's Fisheries Agency. "Rather, we welcome the move," he said. "From now on, whaling will be regarded as something backed by all of Japan, not just a particular group in the private sector."

Kyodo Senpaku, which owned and operated the whaling fleet that was constantly harassed by environmentalists during its expedition from December in the Antarctic, also said there would be no change in schedule.

"Under the new regime, we are committed to redouble our efforts so that we can better contribute to the further development of the research and promoting sustainable utilisation of whale resources," a company official said.

Japan uses a 1986 loophole in the international moratorium on commercial whaling that allows the killing of whales for research, but it makes no secret of the fact that the meat ends up on dinner tables.

Whale meat has a sentimental value in Japan. It helped feed the nation as it rebuilt from the ashes of World War II. But environmentalists say the hunt is cruel and risks bringing whales to extinction. They point to a glut of whale on the Japanese market, where an increasing number of schools are introducing whale meat on school lunches.

The whaling dispute has put Japan at odds with many of its closest political allies such as Australia, European Union nations and the United States. Japan is campaigning for a full-scale return to commercial catches, saying whale stocks have recovered sufficiently during the 19-year ban. Japan last year said it would nearly double its annual kill to about 850 minke whales and extend its hunt to whales considered endangered. - AFP/de

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