Will Japan’s whaling industry go under if demand falls? | Asia | An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW

Japan’s whaling industry is on the brink of collapse, as fewer people consume whale meat and the government subsidies that have kept it afloat are slowly being phased out.

While the industry continues with plans to build a massive new whaling ship, cut costs and encourage more people to consume whale meat, environmentalists say these efforts are delaying the inevitable.

Mariko Abe, of the Nature Conservation Society of Japan, told DW that whale used to be a “traditional food” for millions of Japanese, but “those days are gone and young people just don’t look at it that way anymore.”

“Most of them have never eaten a whale and are not interested in trying it. There is no economic sense in building this new whaling ship and catching more whales because no one wants to buy it,” she said.

What is the status of the Japanese whaling industry?

The Japanese whaling fleet is operated by Kyodo Senpaku Co., the only offshore whaling company in Japan. It has an annual quota of 52 minke whales, 150 Bryde’s and 25 sei whales within the country’s exclusive economic zone.

Kyodo Senpaku employs 170 people. It operates four vessels, consisting of three hunting vessels, and the world’s only whaling factory vessel, Nisshin Maru, which processes the carcasses.

In 2019, Japan withdrew from the International Whaling Commission (IWC) after the agency rejected industry claims that there are enough whales in the world’s seas to justify a return to commercial whaling and to criticize whaling in the world. Southern Ocean to avoid.

For decades, Japanese whalers came under international criticism for exploiting a loophole in the IWC regulations that allowed “scientific whaling” on the high seas.

Japan’s “research” was conducted by the “Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR)”, which Kyodo Senpaku contracted.

Japan harpooned hundreds of whales across the Pacific every year under the pretense of studying their migratory routes and obtaining data on whale numbers, their health and breeding patterns.

Minke whales hunted and processed on the Nisshin Maru in the Southern Ocean in 2013

According to the nonprofit Whale and Dolphin Conservation USA, an article in the treaty allows the whales “taken under these permits” to be “processed” and the government determines the next step.

In the case of Japan, the whale meat is processed by the government and sold for sale on the market.

After leaving the IWC, Japanese whalers were allowed by the government to resume commercial fishing in the waters off Japan.

State financial support to industry is declining.

Industry relies on state aid

For decades, the Japanese government has provided the industry with annual subsidies for “scientific whaling,” with the Fishery Agency’s 2019 figures coming in at about 5.1 billion yen.

Whaling subsidies were reduced to 1.3 billion yen during the first two years after Japan left the IWC in 2019.

Konomu Kubo, a spokesperson for Kyodo Senpaku, told DW that, instead of a grant, the government is now providing a loan of 340 million yen (€2.5 million/$2.53 million), which must be repaid.

aid for the company was converted from a grant into a loan of 340 million yen, to be “repaid after the balance sheet went into the black”.

If state aid is completely phased out, the financial conditions for the Japanese whaling industry seem untenable.

The break-even price for 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of whale meat is 1,200 yen. However, the 2,000 tons put on the market in 2020 sold for an average of just 1,100 yen, according to the Fisheries Bureau.

“Low profits from whale meat sales are not enough to cover ‘scientific’ whaling,” Whale and Dolphin Conservation USA said in a report.

“Even the Japan Fisheries Agency has now given up any pretense that commercial whaling can be profitable,” Patrick Ramage, the senior director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, told DW.

Kyodo Senpaku has announced plans to continue with “modernization”, including the construction of a new processing vessel, with a price tag of 6 billion yen. Work will start next year and will be completed in March 2024.

“Over the past 60 years, whale meat consumption in Japan has fallen by 99%,” Ramage said. “Spending billions of yen to build a new boat will not revive an industry that is dead in the water.”

Nisshin Maru in the city of Shimonoseki

The Nisshin Maru will embark on a commercial whaling expedition in 2019

The 6 billion yen price tag should be offset if the government allows a larger quota of whales and the Japanese public can be convinced to eat more whale meat, Kubo said.

“In terms of taste and depending on how it is cooked, I think whale meat is a tasty food that is certainly not inferior to beef and tuna,” he said. “We believe that implementing various promotional activities will increase the value of whale meat and lead to higher sales.”

A ‘dying industry’

“We are witnessing a dying industry sinking by its own weight,” Ramage said.

Ramage said Japan’s withdrawal from high seas whaling was a “death blow” and an admission that “even massive government subsidies couldn’t keep the industry afloat”.

“Thirty-six months later, even the most ardent proponents of commercial whaling see it as a charitable cause, completely dependent on taxpayer support. Consumer demand continues to fall while costs continue to rise,” he said.

A whale meat dish is displayed in Chuo Ward, Tokyo

Whale meat dishes turn out to be less popular

Ramage said there were alternatives for communities that previously survived from whale slaughter.

“As commercial whaling moves through the stages of death, coastal communities from Hokkaido to Okinawa are migrating to whale and dolphin watching, a profitable ecotourism activity in Japan and worldwide,” Ramage said.

“The matter is becoming clearer,” he said. “Saving the whales costs less and yields more than saving whaling.”

Edited by: Wesley Rahn

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