It’s summer, and the annual battle between the Japanese whaling ships, and Sea Shepherd and Greenpeace, is on again. Meanwhile, another group, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, is trying a more subtle approach, charging that Japan’s whaling activities violate the Antarctic Treaty system. From the the 7:30 Report’s story:
ANNE BARKER: Darren Kindleysides represents the International Fund for Animal Welfare, which wages a less confrontational campaign to end Japanese whaling carried out under the guise of scientific research.
It believes Australia should abandon behind the scenes diplomatic persuasion and change tack by challenging Japan, not on whaling, but environmental grounds.
DARREN KINDLEYSIDES: Whaling activities pose a greater risk to the environment beyond just the risk to whale populations, risk of oil spills and pollution in the Antarctic, and these really need to be challenged within the Antarctic forum.
Chasing the Nishin Maru around the Southern Ocean hasn’t achieved a great deal, so it can’t hurt to try a more subtle approach. But the Japanese have been thumbing their nose at the International Whaling Commission for years with their “scientific” whaling program, so I doubt this is going to get very far either, given the Antarctic Treaty system essentially relies on the goodwill of its signatories rather than any particular enforcement mechanism.
What I don’t understand is why the Japanese government is so keen on whaling; Greenpeace argues that public support for whaling in Japan is is very weak, something also indicated by this (relatively old) column from the Japan Times. While the Greenpeace article argues that there is some level of nationalism involved, it doesn’t seem a sufficient explanation.
However, I did turn up an interesting piece originally published in The Australian which might add something to the puzzle. It’s claimed that Japanese immobility on whaling is all about protecting their access to salmon and tuna fisheries:
Although whales are mammals, Japan defines whaling as a fisheries issue. The kanji character for whale is a combination of two parts, the first being the sign for fish. Nearly all kanji characters for fish names, from snapper to kingfish, are of the same two-part design. So it’s no surprise that Japan’s diplomatic charge at the IWC is led by the agency in charge of fisheries, a rather stuffy and conservative department compared with the more outward-looking foreign affairs ministry. Fisheries officials fear that if Japan backs down on whaling, it will also have to back down on other fisheries issues, such as tuna and salmon. That may sound like rampant paranoia, but history tells another story.
In 1982, when the IWC voted for the moratorium on commercial whaling, the US pressured Japan to (RM:fixed typo in original article, per comments) go along with the moratorium. In return for compliance, the US granted Japan continued access to fish in US waters. But that was later revoked, mainly as a result of domestic pressures within the US, teaching the boys in Japan’s fisheries agency a valuable lesson: compromising is a bad idea.
It sounds vaguely plausible and, if correct, suggests that tactics for the fight against whaling (and the equally important, but less high-profile issue of reducing overfishing) should be recalibrated to take this into account.
So is this indeed the case? Is Japan’s fuss about whaling a proxy for protecting their fishing industry?