Japan plans to expand whale hunting to largest species yet

Japan plans to expand whale hunting to largest species yet

Japan plans to add large fin whales to its commercial hunting list almost five years after it resumed whaling along its coast.

The Fumio Kishida government supports the sustainable hunting of large fin whales to promote the country‘s “traditional food culture”, chief cabinet secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi said.

“Whales are an important food resource and we believe they should be sustainably utilised just like any other marine resources, based on scientific evidence,” Mr Hayashi told reporters on Thursday.

Whale meat was an affordable source of protein for the poor Japanese in the years after the Second World War, with annual consumption peaking at 233,000 tonnes in 1962.

But it was quickly replaced by other meats and, according to the Fisheries Agency, supply has fallen to just about 2,000 tonnes in recent years.

Now, efforts are underway to increase whale meat consumption to about 5,000 tonnes to keep the industry afloat.

Yuuka Fujikawa from Hokkaido has hardly seen whale meat sold at supermarkets. “I’ve actually never tried it myself,” she said.

“I want more people to appreciate the taste of whale,” said Hideyuki Saito, from Saitama prefecture. “I want it to be more popularised.”

Japan currently allows the sale of three whale species – Bryde’s, minke and sei. They were added to the catch list in 2019 after the country ended 30 years of what it called "research whaling", a cover for the commercial hunting of the mammal that was banned by the International Whaling Commission in 1988.

Tokyo left the commission and resumed snaring whales for trading.

Now, the Fisheries Agency proposes to add fin whales to the catch list after stock surveys showed sufficient recovery of the species in the North Pacific.

The agency is seeking public opinion on its draft proposal until 5 June before a review meeting in mid-June.

The plan isn’t meant to increase whale meat supply and whalers who catch fin whales do not necessarily have to meet a quota, an agency official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

The agency has set a combined catch quota of 379 for the three other whale species for this year.

Last year, Japanese whalers caught as many as 294 minke, sei and Bryde’s whales, less than 80 per cent of the quota and fewer than the number once hunted under the “research” programme in the northwestern Pacific and the Antarctic.

Additional reporting by agencies