Japan Forced to Review its Take of Endangered Sei Whales

File image courtesy Christin Khan / NOAA

By The Maritime Executive 10-05-2018 04:07:11

The Japanese government has agreed to review its research program on the endangered sei whale after facing international censure for the sale of its meat. 

Japan conducts research on hundreds of whales per year by collecting them and then selling them for human consumption, with the proceeds going towards further research. Japanese consumers purchase approximately 5,000 tons of whale per year, most of it sourced through this program, with portions available at domestic supermarkets, online retailers and restaurants. 

In 2014, the International Court of Justice ruled that the Antarctic Ocean portion of Japan's whaling program is "not for the purposes of scientific research." More recently, the administrative committee of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) began an investigation of the program; this week, it concluded that Japan's practice of removing sei whales from international waters and selling their meat is not compliant with the CITES treaty.

Japan has agreed to delay the departure of its whaling fleet for the annual sei whale research season until after the committee's next meeting, and it has until next February to submit a plan to bring its program into compliance. CITES could recommend trade sanctions against Japan if it does not comply. 

“This means Japan must close its domestic market for sei whale meat, which is currently widely available in grocery stores, restaurants and the Internet,” said Erica Jayne Lyman, a professor of international environmental law at Lewis and Clark Law School, speaking to the Washington Post.

Environmental NGO World Wildlife Fund (WWF) reacted to the decision with praise, but also expressed regret at its long delay. "Today’s decision makes clear that Japan’s landing and sale of sei whale meat and other products for retail trade is an unequivocal violation of international law. Despite this clear conclusion, the Standing Committee deferred any action until their next meeting in May 2019, even though this issue has been flagged for Parties for 15 years," said WWF US policy director Leigh Henry in a statement.