Japan will resume commercial whaling in July 2019. Tokyo has long deflected criticism for its commercial whaling activities, arguing that eating whale meat is a part of its culture.
Japan will withdraw from the International Whaling Commission (IWC), a government spokesman confirmed on Wednesday. The move sets the stage for Japan to resume commercial whaling activities next year.
"Commercial whaling to be resumed from July next year will be limited to Japan's territorial waters and exclusive economic zones. We will not hunt in the Antarctic waters or in the southern hemisphere," top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga told reporters.
Suga said Japan would communicate its decision to the IWC by the end of the year. As such, the withdrawal will come into effect by June 30, 2019.
The Japanese government had tried to persuade the IWC to allow its commercial whaling, but the international organization rejected the bid in September. As a result, it was expected that Tokyo would end its membership with the IWC.
With its IWC exit, Japan now joins Iceland and Norway in openly defying the organization's ban on commercial whale hunting.
Despite the 1986 IWC moratorium on commercial whaling to protect whale populations from extinction, Japan nevertheless kills an estimated 450 whales annually. It has continued to carry out whaling activities with research vessels, particularly in Antarctica.
Japan has deflected international criticism and staunchly defended commercial whale hunting. Tokyo has long argued that most whale species are not endangered and that eating whale is a part of its culture.
Sam Annesley, executive director at Greenpeace Japan, decried the IWC withdrawal. "It's clear that the government is trying to sneak in this announcement at the end of year, away from the spotlight of international media, but the world sees this for what it is," Annesley said in a statement.
"The declaration today is out of step with the international community, let alone the protection needed to safeguard the future of our oceans and these majestic creatures. The government of Japan must urgently act to conserve marine ecosystems, rather than resume commercial whaling," he added.
A centuries-old tradition
According to the Japan Whaling Association, the practice of whaling in Japan is said to date back to the 12th century, when fishermen began hunting the sea creatures with harpoons.
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The construction of a full-fledged whaling base in Ayukawa, Miyagi, in 1906 heralded the nation's modern era of whaling
In the 1950s, the practice reached its peak amid growing demand for whale meat as a key source of protein in the years following World War II, when the nation was poor and recovering from the devastation.
Though the government has actively defended whaling, consumption of whale meat at home is on the decline. Fisheries officials say that whale meat is more popular with older segments of the Japanese population than among the young.
jcg/aw (AFP, Reuters, AP)