Japan Is More Confident on CITES Whale Vote
BANGKOK Japan is confident it can secure the votes needed to resume commercial trade in whale products and that this would be a step toward lifting a ban on hunting the marine giants, a Japanese official said on Wednesday.
"It's difficult, but this time we are confident that we have more support than we had at previous meetings," said Joji Morishita, deputy director of the international affairs division of Japan's Fisheries Agency.
Japan has proposed that some stocks of minke whales be shifted from a CITES list of most-endangered animals, in which international trade is banned, to a less-endangered category, where trade would be possible.
"Biologically it is clear that minke whales should not be in Appendix I" of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), Morishita said on the sidelines of a two-week meeting on the pact.
Minke whales are acknowledged as one of the more robust whale populations, numbering perhaps 1 million worldwide.
"The question if it is endangered or not is not a question anymore," said Morishita.
Japan's CITES proposal wants to move three minke stocks from Appendix I, which allows trade only in exceptional circumstances, to Appendix II, which allows controlled trade.
There are three populations of minke whales: one near Japan, one in the central North Atlantic, and another in the eastern North Atlantic the last two of interest to Iceland and Norway.
"If the minke is downlisted, there will be no expanded international trade. The only real market is Japan," Morishita said. "It's more an issue of principle for us."
Japan says eating whale meat is a cultural tradition. Whale was a key source of protein in the dark days after World War II but has now become a gourmet food due to sparse supplies.
Step Toward Lifting Hunting Ban
But he acknowledged that it would help Japan's battle to get the International Whaling Commission to lift a ban on whaling which has been in place since 1986.
"I think this would be indirect pressure on the IWC," Morishita said of a success for Japan's proposal. "There is a misunderstanding that if/when the moratorium is lifted, Japan will hunt everything in the ocean. We will only hunt abundant species," he said.
Many conservationists oppose whale hunting on the grounds that harpooning is cruel. Some also say that whale number estimates are not known accurately. Those views carry political weight in the European Union, which has signaled that it will not support Japan's proposal.
Japan will need a two-thirds vote to pass its proposal.
About 150 of CITES's 166 member states are present at the meeting with more expected to trickle in. Only one of the E.U.'s 25 members, Cyprus, is not present yet, so the E.U.'s block vote could prove decisive.
But Morishita said Japan was counting on support from many developing countries, including those in West Africa and the Caribbean whose fishing stocks he said were adversely affected by whale numbers.
Japan says it hunts whales for scientific research, but the meat often ends up on store shelves and in gourmet restaurants.
Research whaling takes place in two regions: the Antarctic, where Japan plans to take up to 440 minke this year, and the Northwest Pacific, where it plans to take around 220 minke, 50 Bryde's whales, 100 sei whales, and 10 sperm whales.