We must put a stop to Japan's whale hunting
International pressure is the best way to end Japan’s commercial whaling. Our next Prime Minister must condemn this despicable practice in the strongest possible terms, writes Anne Main
Earlier this month a Japanese fleet of vessels caught a whale on the first commercial whale hunt in decades. This cruel act was a consequence of Japan’s announcement to withdraw from the International Whale Commission (IWC) in December 2018.
Japan’s withdrawal from the IWC came despite clear indications that the Japanese appetite for whale meat has markedly decreased in recent years and there is little in the way of market demand globally.
In 2017, the Japanese consumed only 3,000 tons of whale meat, which per capita comes to two tablespoons of whale meat per year.
The decision to leave the IWC was pushed by a small but powerful coalition of politicians and whaling industry leaders.
Despite the ban by the IWC in 1986, Japan has killed between 200 and 1,200 whales each year under an exemption to the ban allowing hunting for scientific purposes.
This pursuit of ‘scientific’ whaling has always been a source of much debate and has meant that many species of whale popular with Japanese commercial vessels have continued to be under threat for a number of years.
It is feared that Japanese vessels will hunt and kill a quota of 227 whales by the end of this year, allocations which have been set by the Japanese fishing ministry. The quota includes 52 Minke, 150 Bryde’s and 25 Sei whales.
Sei whales are classified as endangered, according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Another vulnerable population living in Japanese waters - which will be affected by Japan’s decision - are the common Minke which possibly number fewer than 5,500.
Japan’s decision to resume hunting will have devastating effects for the populations of these defenceless species which are already being threatened by ocean pollution and climate change.
Japan is out of step with much of the global community on this issue. The Foreign Minister of New Zealand has strongly criticised Japan’s continuation of whaling and the Australian government has also urged Japan to reconsider its decision urgently.
I recently asked our Prime Minister during Prime Minister’s Questions what more we can do to send the strongest possible message to stop this abhorrent practice. The Prime Minister responded by saying she was disappointed with Japan’s decision to recommence commercial whaling and that this government would continue to engage with Japan on this issue.
The Prime Minister and the Environment Secretary raised the UK’s opposition to whaling with the Japanese government earlier this year, before Japan had officially started this practice again.
Japan’s decision will undermine international efforts to preserve the whale population and will threaten our oceans’ fragile ecology.
There is no credible justification for this outdated practice and hunting this threatened species is ethically wrong.
It is my belief that Japan should return to the IWC as a matter of priority and it is the responsibility of the international community to apply pressure on Japan to revoke their decision.
It is critical that our next Prime Minister joins our international partners in condemning Japan’s recommencement of commercial whale hunting in the strongest possible terms.
I know that both Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson are strongly opposed to this practice, but actions will speak louder than words. Of course, there are other major challenges facing our country, but I hope that our next PM will do even more to champion causes like this and use our soft power to influence our allies when they are making the wrong decision.
International pressure is the best way we can try and put a stop to this despicable practice and the UK is well-placed to coordinate that pressure.
We all have a duty to act.
Anne Main is Conservative MP for St Albans