Japanese whaling fleets set sail on Monday to hunt whales for commercial purposes for the first time in 31 years, a day after Tokyo formally withdrew from the International Whaling Commission (IWC).
As an IWC member, Japan halted commercial whaling in 1988 but hunted whales for what it claims were research purposes, a practice criticized internationally as a cover for commercial whaling, reports Kyodo News Agency.
On Monday morning, Nisshin Maru, a whale factory ship belonging to Kyodo Senpaku Co., and two other whalers left the port of Shimonoseki in the western Japan prefecture of Yamaguchi for offshore whaling of the minke, sei and Bryde’s whales.
Five small vessels from six operators also left Kushiro in the island of Hokkaido to conduct coastal hunting of minke whales.
To prevent over-hunting, the Fisheries Agency has set a quota of 227 whales for commercial whaling through late December with 52 minke, 150 Bryde’s and 25 sei whales.
Fisheries Minister Takamori Yoshikawa said in a ceremony to mark the restart of commercial whaling in Shimonoseki: “From today, I’d like whalers to catch whales by observing the quota and aim for revival of the whaling industry.”
The IWC was founded in 1948 and Japan joined it in 1951. It was originally composed of whaling nations, but increasing memberships of anti-whaling countries led the Commission to adopt a moratorium on commercial whaling in 1982.
Japan has long sought to lift the moratorium and finally withdrew from the IWC on Sunday after the organization last September voted down its proposal to resume commercial whaling of species considered abundant such as minke whales.
The country has said that it will hunt whales in nearby waters and within its exclusive economic zone but not in the Antarctic Ocean, where the country had carried out whaling for what it describes as research purposes.