The Japanese whaling ships have sailed on Monday in the first commercial whaling of these cetaceans in more than 30 years. Japan announced last year that it was leaving the International Whaling Commission (IWC in its acronym in English) and that it would retake the commercial catch this July 1 in its exclusive economic zone. Two whaling ships and a ship-factory departed from the port of Shimonoseki, on the east coast of Japan, where they were fired by neighbors, local and national authorities and a ceremony was organized to wish fishermen luck. Five other fishing vessels departed from Kushiro, on the northern island of Hokkaido,
The objective is to hunt 227 whales – 52 of the Minke species, 150 of the Bryde whale and 25 of the fin whales – for commercial purposes by the end of the year, always in Japanese territorial waters, they say. At least one of the boats returned in the afternoon to Kushiro and unloaded its prey, the AFP said.s Minke whales.
"It's a small industry, but I'm proud of hunting whales, the practice has been around for more than 400 years in my city," explained Yoshifumi Kai, president of a whale fishermen's association, excited to get back to sea. For Hideki Abe it is something new, he is 23 years old and had never participated in a mission of this kind. "I'm a little nervous, but happy that we can start, I would like more people to try the whale, at least once," he said before his departure.
The decision to re-hunt whales raised a global condemnation for the persecution of the species. Environmental activists from several countries urged the leaders gathered at the G20 summit in Osaka in recent days not to turn their backs on what they called "cruel attack".
Authorities in Japan have argued that the consumption of whale meat is part of their culture and that most species are not endangered. Since 1986, a global moratorium against hunting has been in place, but Japan started from that date what it called scientific whaling in the North Pacific. The critics against the measure censured that it was a commercial activity, but masked. In 2015, the UN Court stopped the activity.
"I used to eat whale when I was young, but it's very expensive lately," says Sachiko Sakai, 66, a taxi driver in Kushiro, a port city on the northern island of Hokaido where on Sunday several whaling ships remained moored. "Maybe now that commercial hunting resumes, it's cheaper," he confides.
The consumption of whale meat in Japan in recent years stood at about 5,000 tons, a quantity supplied mainly with imports and far from the 230,000 tons per year that were reached at the peak of demand in the 1960s.
Whale meat, which is consumed in the Japanese archipelago in sashimi (raw cuts), breaded or cooked, was a very popular food in postwar Japan because of its low cost and high nutritional value.
The Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, in whose district of origin is the whaling center of Shimonoseki, has bet for a long time to resume hunting, but the future of the industry is far from clear. About 300 people throughout Japan work directly on the hunt and the annual supply of whale meat (about 5,000 tons), barely supposes an intake of 40 or 50 grams per Japanese per year.
The Japanese Executive has decided to set its catch limits with the aim of guaranteeing "the sustainable use of marine resources" and according to "scientific criteria", according to high-level government officials said at a press conference on Monday.
Iceland, Norway and Russia practice commercial whaling after submitting formal objections to the IWC moratorium, while other member states, such as the United States or Denmark, make limited catches categorized as subsistence for Aboriginal communities.
In Japan, whaling directly employs about three hundred people without including whale meat processing and packaging companies, according to the Executive, which also plans to grant subsidies to this industry with the aim of "revitalizing" it, said the aforementioned sources.
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