Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Big Lie Behind Japanese Whaling

Dr. Kirby's Book
The following New York Times (10/13/14) op ed by Oxford University researcher  Peter Wynn Kirby discusses Japan's rationale behind its insistence upon Antarctic whaling. He argues it is more about protecting their access to international waters for fishing than about a cultural proclivity. Japan has no tradition of hunting whales outside its coastal waters. Industrial pelagic whaling is a government endeavor for which the government has fabricated a history for Japan.

This "redo" of history, whether regarding the war or culture is a consistent theme among Japan's conservative nationalist politicians. There is an idealized past they believe needs to be retrieved for Japan to be a normal nation. Underlying these beliefs is a real effort to retrieve past properties and privileges lost after the war. The return of Antarctica and other maritime territories forfeited by the San Francisco Peace Treaty are the ultimate target.

TOKYO — The International Court of Justice’s decision last March to prohibit Japan’s annual whale hunt in Antarctic waters was greeted by many as an historic step against a reprehensible practice. Yet last month, despite the enormous diplomatic toll, Japan vowed to continue its whaling activities under a controversial research program of dubious scientific merit.

Japan’s determination may seem puzzling, but only if you assume its whaling activities are about science, or that its purportedly scientific whaling is a cover for commercial whaling. In fact, Japan’s pro-whaling stance isn’t really about whales at all; instead, it is about ensuring access to other fishing resources.

Japan’s so-called research whaling program is far from scientific: Thanks to unprofessional methodology and sloppy standards, its findings are widely regarded as risible. Some 3,600 whales have been slaughtered since 2005, but Japan’s Institute for Cetacean Research (I.C.R.), the de facto government entity that oversees the country’s whaling program, has only two peer-reviewed scholarly articles to show for it. And much robust testing doesn’t even require killing whales.

Meanwhile, the market for whale meat in Japan has slumped considerably. Whaling proponents claim the practice helps safeguard Japan’s culinary heritage against Western cultural imperialism. But survey after survey shows that outside a handful of small whaling communities, most Japanese regard whale meat with indifference, if not disgust. They eat less than 24 grams per capita annually. Thousands of tons of frozen whale steaks and whale bacon languish unwanted in expensive cold storage. As a result, the I.C.R., once largely funded by the sale of whale meat, is now claiming more taxpayer money.

These inefficiencies result from a policy that hides its true motives: If the Japanese government adamantly defends its marginal whaling rights, it is because it fears encroachment on its critical fishing activities. This concern is not only a point of cultural pride and a commercial necessity; it is also perceived as a strategic imperative. Japan catches several million tons of seafood a year and is the third-largest importer of seafood, behind the European Union and the United States. Japanese eat more fish per capita than the people of any other industrialized nation.

The problematic use of whaling to safeguard fisheries dates back to the early 1980s and discussions about an international moratorium on commercial whaling. With the negotiations stalled because Japan opposed the idea of a ban, the American government threatened to limit Japanese ships’ access to fishing stocks in United States waters unless Japan withdrew its objection. Japan complied in 1986, privileging fisheries over whaling. But the United States then curtailed Japan’s access to American fish stocks anyway. And in 1987 Japan announced it would resume whaling under the controversial pseudo-scientific program still in place today.

Since then, more hidebound Japanese bureaucrats, particularly in the Fisheries Agency, have feared that giving ground on whaling would undermine Japan’s ability to harvest other seafood. Joji Morishita, now Japan’s commissioner to the International Whaling Commission, let slip this rationale in an interview in 2000. He said he worried that conceding too much would “set a precedent” and that “once the principle of treating wildlife as a sustainable resource is compromised, our right to exploit other fish and animal products would be infringed upon.”

The Japanese government has been hostile to the creation of sanctuaries for threatened species as well as to any restrictions on indiscriminate catching methods, like the drift nets used in the 1990s or the huge, sinuous long lines in use today. Even with the endangered Atlantic bluefin tuna, a clear case of overexploitation, Japanese negotiators have pushed hard to ensure that oversight is conducted by smaller regional bodies, like the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, rather than high-profile international bodies created by the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species. In January 2008, the business magazine Shukan Toyo Keizai quoted a government source as stating, “If we give an inch on the whaling issue, we will also have to back down on tuna.”

Perhaps sensing that this domino theory might not convince non-Japanese, the whaling lobby also makes another, spurious, case: that whales, rather than humans, are responsible for declining global fisheries. The Institute of Cetacean Research claims that whales are “top predators” and “consume a colossal amount of fish.” Never mind overfishing or pollution. And never mind that many whales don’t eat the seafood prized by fishing fleets, or that many areas with recovering whale populations also boast abundant fish stocks. According to the I.C.R.’s twisted logic, to protect fish you must cull whales.

Such fallacies are reinforced by the patronage system that prevails in Japan. Being curmudgeonly on whaling plays well in conservative circles. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s return to power in December 2012 was a virtual palace coup for whaling proponents. When critical decisions on Japan’s research program were being made earlier this year, no fewer than 12 members of the cabinet — including the prime minister, the deputy prime minister, the chief cabinet secretary and the minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries — were or had been members of the conservative Parliamentary League for the Promotion of Whaling. In his book “Whaling in Japan,” Jun Morikawa details how the corrupt official system that bolsters Japan’s whaling lobby virtually guarantees loyal officials a cushy salary and fringe benefits for their entire careers.

Solving this problem and the broader issue of Japanese whaling starts with the recognition that Japan’s insistence on whaling is far less about whales than about fish. Drawing on realpolitik, the governments that are concerned about whaling would do well to help Japan secure access to sustainable fisheries. Because, as it happens, the best way to protect the whales is to protect the fish.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Intelligent comments and additional information welcome. We are otherwise selective.