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Why does Japan go whaling?

I have been following a debate on Opinion Juris on the issue of the Law of the Sea and non-state actors. Now before you yawn, this is an important debate…honest 🙂

One author had asked the question of whether the Japanese Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR) is a state actor or an independent body?

This got me thinking to what role the ICR plays in the whaling debate and who it really speaks for?

The ICR is portrayed by the Japanese Government as a independent body of specialists that carry out their so called ‘scientific whaling’ as, what they like to portray themselves, a non-profit. But before you feel sorry for these ‘good hearted charity workers’ let’s look at little bit closer at their own website.

The question of whether the ICR  is an actor for the Japanese State is moot if one just looks at the ICR website.

…it states, “Thus far, independent entities such as national laboratories, universities, voluntary research institutions, and individual- researchers have been studying whales and other marine mammals. These studies, however, are closely related and must be better coordinated to contribute to the solutions required at the national and international levels,making it possible for Japan to take a more active role in international organizations.”

The important line I would suggest is “…solutions required at the national and international levels, making it possible for Japan to take a more active role in international organizations”

Anyone who thinks that the ICR is not an organ of the Japanese state is, if one will forgive me, living in ‘cloud cuckoo land’. Just as Japan would not send an independent scientist to the IWC Scientific Committee, so the ICR does not appear to act without the authority of the Japanese State. 

The real purpose of the ICR and its attack on whales can also be seen in its statement of purpose…http://www.icrwhale.org/abouticr.html

“…Problems surrounding Japanese fisheries have become increasingly complex in recent years in relation to the conservation and management of marine mammals, as exemplified by the IWC’s adoption of a moratorium on all commercial whaling in 1982 and the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary in 1994, as well as by the tightening of regulatory measures on driftnet and other fishery technology.

More restrictive measures are expected to be imposed internationally upon fisheries, including high-seas fisheries. Japan will have to respond appropriately to solve future problems in order to contribute to the proper conservation, management, and rational utilization of marine resources.”

The highlighting is mine. But what is clear is that Japan, and its agency, the ICR, sees itself at the forefront of opposing international regulations of international fisheries. 

Indeed, the whaling debate, a costly and politically difficult paradigm for Japan to maintain, … is really about sacrificing whales as a stalwart against any regulation of fisheries of any type.

The shame is that thousands of whales have to die for Japan to make its point,… simply because it has neither the science or the confidence in its own ability to argue its case in other fishery fora.