The spending review committee established by Japan's new Prime Minister, Yukio Hatoyama, has recommended that funding for the Overseas Fishery Cooperation Foundation be cancelled after 2010.
The OFCF is the largest financer of the Tokyo-based Institute of Cetacean Research, which runs the Japanese whaling program. The whaling fleet usually sails for the Southern Ocean in mid-November, hunting whales for scientific research regardless of a moratorium on commercial whaling set by the International Whaling Commission in 1986.
Japanese whaler hauls mother and calf minke whales aboard. Southern Ocean, February 2008. (Photo credit unknown)
But the research program does not cover its costs, and Japan's new government is looking for ways to cut spending.
The spending review committee has recommended that the Overseas Fisheries Cooperation Fund have all of its funding revoked, except monies needed for loans in 2010.
The OFCF claims it needs 70.4 billion yen (US$780 million) for various programs, most likely including whaling, in 2010.
The spending review committee and Cabinet Office will have the final decision on whether or not the proposed whaling operations for 2010 are necessary or should also be cut.
If the loans for whaling are revoked, it is unlikely the Institute of Cetacean Research can continue to operate. Reports in the Japanese media claim that the Institute has failed to fully repay more than one billion yen in previous OFCF loans.
The news comes on the eve of President Barack Obama's arrival in Tokyo for meetings with Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama on Friday evening. Whaling is on the agenda for discussions between the two leaders.
"Prime Minister Hatoyama has a unique opportunity to signal he is serious about his election promises to clean up government spending by ending this controversial, corrupt and wasteful whaling program," said Greenpeace Australia Pacific Head of Campaigns Stephen Campbell.
"We urge President Barack Obama to support Prime Minister Hatoyama to fully implement the recommendations of this committee and take the steps required to end whaling in the Southern Ocean," Campbell said.
The United States is opposed to commercial whaling and lethal scientific research whaling, as expressed in a statement by the U.S. State Department, which says, "The United States is committed to advancing the global conservation and management of large whale populations through science-based policies and leadership in the International Whaling Commission (IWC).
"The United States continues to view the commercial whaling moratorium as a necessary conservation measure and believes that lethal scientific whaling is unnecessary in modern whale conservation management," the State Department says.
Tail of a humpback whale in the Southern Ocean shot from the Greenpeace ship Esperanza during the 2008 anti-whaling expedition. (Photo courtesy Greenpeace)
Meanwhile, 40 environmental nongovernmental organizations that work in Latin America have requested that their governments take diplomatic actions against the killing of whales "under supposed scientific purposes" to save the lives of hundreds of whales in the Southern Hemisphere.
Today, the petition was presented jointly to all Latin American commissioners of the International Whaling Commission.
Elsa Cabrera, executive director of the Cetacean Conservation Center of Chile, said, "The vast support of the Latin-American NGOs is a strong message to our governments about the need to publicly reject the so-called 'scientific whaling' operations, an activity that is not regulated and that it is conducted without any mechanisms of control in waters that paradoxically are a whale sanctuary."
In the letter the NGOs affirmed, "Since the implementation of the moratorium on commercial whaling, the government of Japan has captured more than 8,000 whales in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary under supposed scientific purposes and that since the beginning of the second phase of Japan's Whale Research Program in the Antarctic (JARPA II) in 2006, the annual quota of Antarctic minke whales has reached similar levels of the commercial whaling quota used for this species before the adoption of the moratorium."
Roxana Schteinbarg, executive coordinator of the Whale Conservation Institute of Argentina declared, "We are confident that our governments will pay attention to our concerns and begin actions that can stop the Japanese whaling fleet."
The Japanese government issues research whaling permits to the Institute of Cetacean Research which, in turn, contracts a single whaling company, Kyodo Senpaku, to provide the vessels and crew. The ICR releases the products from the hunts twice a year to Kyodo Senpaku to sell at a price fixed by the ICR and Ministry of Fisheries to wholesalers, processors and local authorities. The primary purpose of the sale is to cover the costs of whaling and research, according to a June 2009 report by the conservation groups WWF and the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society.
However, even though ICR sets whale meat prices high relative to demand, they are not high enough to cover all costs, the report states. High subsidies are required to maintain Japan's "scientific whaling" operations, and these subsidies have increased in recent years as the hunts have expanded.
A minke whale on the deck of a Japanese whaler in the Southern Ocean (Photo courtesy ICR)
Then there is the cost of buying the votes of other countries to support the Japanese position at the meetings of the International Whaling Commission. The spending review committee will review funding of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Grant Aid program during the week of November 24, Greenpeace says.
The Japanese Whale Research Program under Special Permit in the Antarctic, JARPA, has been conducting lethal minke whale research since 1987. During the 2008-2009 whale hunt in Antarctica's Southern Ocean, Japan reports killing 679 whales.
Under the whole Japanese whaling program, which includes whaling in the North Pacific as well as in Antarctica, 1004 whales were killed last year.
Since 1986, when the IWC ban on commercial whaling took effect, Japan has killed more than 12,000 whales. Its two separate hunts have increased in scope and scale to include common minke, Antarctic minke, fin, sperm, Bryde's and sei whales. Fin, sperm and sei whales are classed as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
The Institute of Cetacean Research says, "Japan's objective is to resume commercial whaling for abundant species on a sustainable basis under international control. At the same time we are committed to conservation and the protection of endangered species. This is the purpose of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, ICRW."
"Research whaling is a fundamental right of every member of the IWC according to Article VIII of the ICRW," the Institute states.
While the Southern Ocean was declared whale sanctuary by the IWC in 1994, the Institute does not respect that designation, saying, "The IWC sanctuary in the Antarctic applies to commercial whaling only. It does not apply to research whaling."
The Japanese say they need to continue lethal scientific studies of whales because they believe whales are eating fish that Japanese consumers need for themselves.
"The catches by Japanese fisheries drastically decreased from 12.8 million tons in 1988 to 5.8 million tons in 2005," states a 2009 paper on Japanese Whale Research Program in the North Pacific by scientists from the Institute of Cetacean Research, the National Research Institute of Far Seas Fisheries, and Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology.
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