Will Japan’s whaling industry go under if demand falls?

By Julian Ryallo

Three years after Japan withdrew from the International Whaling Commission (IWC) announcing that whalers would be allowed to resume commercial hunting there, the industry is on the brink of collapse.

An industry that employed thousands of people in the decades immediately following World War II and sustained entire communities in those difficult economic times is today losing the government subsidies that kept it afloat. More and more, it is also delivering a product that very few people want to buy.

The whaling industry insists it continues with plans to modernize operations, cut costs and encourage more people to consume whale meat, but environmentalists say they are only delaying the inevitable.

What is the status of the Japanese whaling industry?

Three years ago, Japan had become frustrated with its inability to convince other members of the IWC that there are enough whales in the world’s seas to justify a return to commercial whaling.

At the same time, Japanese whalers came under international criticism for exploiting a loophole in the IWC’s regulations that allowed “scientific whaling.” , their health and breeding patterns.

To ensure that the “byproduct” of this deadly research was not lost, the Department of Fisheries wanted to emphasize that whale meat was subsequently sold.

While the industry was pleased that the government allowed them to go commercial whaling again, there were concerns that state subsidies would be phased out and whaling companies would have to operate like any other private sector company.

If they didn’t make a profit, they would go under.

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.

Photo Credits: Reuters/TPG Images

A worker transports meat from Baird’s beaked whale at Wada Harbor in Minamiboso, southeast of Tokyo, Japan, July 18, 2019.

According to the Fisheries Agency, the government has provided grants of about 5.1 billion yen (36.5 million euros) each year for “scientific whaling” to keep the industry afloat.

However, that was reduced to 1.3 billion yen after Japan left the IWC, and last year it cut subsidies on a 340 million yen loan that had to be repaid.

Without subsidies, the break-even price for 1 kilo of whale meat is 1,200 yen (€8.58). However, the 2,000 tons caught in 2020 sold for an average of just 1,100 yen.

A key part of the industry’s modernization plan is the construction of a new mothership, which will start work next year and be completed by March 2024.

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

Whalers try to make whale meat more attractive

“Besides the excellent nutritional value, whale meat has health functions. such as an anti-fatigue effect and helping to prevent dementia, according to the results of scientific studies,” he told DW.

“Also in terms of taste and depending on the way it is cooked, I find whale meat tasty, which is certainly not inferior to beef and tuna. We believe that implementing various promotional activities will increase the value of whale meat and lead to higher sales,” he added.

Patrick Ramage, senior director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, rejects the whaler’s claim.

“We are witnessing a dying industry sinking by its own weight,” he told DW.

“Japan’s withdrawal from high seas whaling was a death blow, an admission that even massive government subsidies couldn’t keep it afloat. Thirty-six months later, even the most ardent proponents of commercial whaling see it as a charitable cause, completely dependent on taxpayer support,” he said.

“Consumer demand continues to fall while costs continue to rise,” he added.

“Even the Japan Fisheries Agency has now abandoned any pretense that commercial whaling can be profitable. Over the past 60 years, the consumption of whale meat in Japan has fallen by 99%. Spending billions of yen to build a new boat will not revive an industry that is dead in the water,” Ramage said.

An end to the whale communities?

Ramage said there are alternatives for communities that have 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,” the activist added.

“The case is becoming clearer: saving the whales costs less and yields more than saving whaling.”

Mariko Abe of the Nature Conservation Society of Japan reiterated the belief that whaling in Japan is on its last legs.

“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,” she told DW.

“Most of them have never eaten whale and are not interested in trying it. It makes absolutely no economic sense to build this new whaling ship and catch more whales because no one wants to buy it,” she said.

Edited by: Wesley Rahn

READ NEXT: Dignity at the margin: Exploring Kosovo through a Taiwanese lens

This article was originally published on Deutsche Welle. Read the original article here.

TNL Editor: Bryan Chou (@thenewslensintl)

If you liked this article and want to get more story updates in your news feed, be sure to follow our Facebook.

The International Edition of News Lens

Leave a Comment

%d bloggers like this: