Whale Conservationists Squeeze Sushi Sales Partnership

WASHINGTON, DC, April 11, 2007 (ENS) - One of the largest U.S. suppliers of sushi seafood is drawing fire from conservation groups since it partnered with the leading Japanese whale meat trader to distribute the Japanese company's new frozen sushi product in the United States.

True World Foods based in Elizabeth, New Jersey is being pressured to persuade its new business partner, the multinational seafood conglomerate Kyokuyo, to stop selling whale meat products.

True World Foods will market Kyokuyo's frozen sushi under the brand name Polar Seas Frozen Sushi, but the company says it has made no plans to market whale meat.

Japanese factory whaler takes a minke whale on board in the Southern Ocean. January 2006. (Photo by Kate Davison courtesy Greenpeace)
In a new report, "Raw Deal," the Environmental Investigation Agency, EIA, a nonprofit group based in Washington and London, details Kyokuyo’s decades-long involvement in hunting whales and its recent connection with True World Foods.

"Through its sales of millions and millions of cans of whale meat in Japan each year, Kyokuyo is a driving force behind Japan's expanding commercial whaling industry," said EIA president Allan Thornton.

"We appeal to True World Foods to use their influence to persuade Kyokuyo to immediately end their massive sale of whale meat and to uphold international laws that protect great whales from commercial hunting," he said Tuesday.

Kyokuyo got its start in the 1930s as a whaling company operating in the Antarctic. Although it sold its stock in the government of Japan’s whaling fleet last year, Kyokuyo has not cut its connections to the whaling industry but sells cans of Polar Seas brand whale meat and other whale products across Japan and on the Internet.

"While Kyokuyo’s recent divestment of shares means that it is no longer carrying out whaling, it continues to be the largest producer of canned whalemeat, and as such, plays a significant role in Japan’s current whaling industry and future plans to expand it," the EIA report states.

The Humane Society International and the International Fund for Animal Welfare, IFAW, have joined the EIA in calling on True World Foods to convince Kyokuyo to stop selling whale products.

The groups are urging U.S. grocery stores to "think twice" before placing Polar Seas products on their shelves. The product could be in U.S. stores this summer.

Polar Seas Frozen Sushi (Photo courtesy True World Foods)
"No respectable business should want to be associated with the cruel and inhumane killing of one of the world’s most magnificent animals," said Kitty Block, director of treaty law, oceans, and wildlife protection for Humane Society International.

"With such a large presence in the United States where citizens are outraged by the wanton slaughter," she said, "it is incumbent upon True World Foods to convince Kyokuyo to get out of the whaling business now."

True World Foods said today in a statement that the company is not directly involved in the whale meat trade.

"We deeply respect the right of animal rights organizations to express their views and to take constructive action in support of their beliefs," said True World Foods CEO Takeshi Yashiro.

"At the same time, the public should know that True World Foods has never, does not and never will sell, deal in or purchase whale meat. We are in the process of reminding all of our suppliers that we advocate humane fishing practices and we urge them all to support such practices worldwide."

"Since we started up as a small business in Brooklyn, New York, 32 years ago, we have grown into being one of the leading suppliers of sushi-quality seafood to restaurants in this country," said Yashiro. "We are proud of our tradition of excellence and wish to retain our focus not on politics, but on ensuring that our customers can and will continue to receive seafood that tastes good, is safe to eat, and contains no whale meat."

A poll conducted for the International Fund for Animal Welfare showed that 69 percent of Americans surveyed said they were willing to boycott a restaurant carrying products from a Japanese company involved in whaling, said Patrick Ramage, IFAW's global whale campaign manager.

"Despite a global ban and global outrage, the government of Japan now hunts more than 1,200 whales each year," said Ramage. "U.S. shoppers will be shocked to know that by buying Polar Seas sushi, they are supporting Japan’s deadly whale hunt."

"Since the 1930s, Japanese hunters have killed more than half a million whales," the groups said in a statement.

One of several brands of canned whale meat marketed by Kyokuyo (Photo courtesy Kyokuyo)
"Kyokuyo has profited from the deaths of over 130,000 great whales, including more than 10,000 whales since the international ban on commercial whaling took effect in 1986," the EIA reports, based on figures gathered by the International Whaling Commission, IWC.

The International Whaling Commission banned commercial whaling in 1986, but a provision in the IWC treaty that allows whaling for "scientific purposes" is utitilized by Japan to justify its "research" whaling program. More than 500 whales have been killed in Japan’s hunt this year.

In 1994, the IWC voted by a majority of 23 to 1 to designate the entire Southern Ocean as a whale sanctuary. In spite of almost universal support for the Southern Ocean Sanctuary within the IWC, Japan registered an objection to the designation regarding minke whales, while accepting that the designation applied to all other species of whales, including fin and humpback whales.

Japan has announced that, in addition to the 1,200 minke whales and endangered fin whales it plans to hunt this year in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, it will also kill up to 50 humpback whales. The Southern Ocean population of these humpbacks is listed as Vulnerable to extinction by the IUCN-World Conservation Union.

To view EIA's "Raw Deal" report click here.