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Will Hatoyama Ban Whaling?
New government committee recommends cancellation of funds to whaling institute
Marcel Herbke (mherbcat)     Print Article 
Published 2009-11-19 11:03 (KST)   
This article is lightly edited.  <Editor's Note>
The anti whaling community may have finally won its battle against Japanese whaling for 'scientific research'. In the past, battles were fought in the cold oceans and the conference rooms of the International Whaling Commission (IWC), but last week, a provisional victory was won in the budget planning process of the new Japanese government.

A major review of Japanese government spending has resulted in a 'Spending Review Committee' recommending that subsidies to the whale research institute be cut. Specifically, the recommendation was that the Overseas Fisheries Cooperation Fund (OFCF) that lends money to the Institute for Cetacean Research (ICR) have all funding revoked. The OFCF claimed it needed 70.4 billion yen (around US$780 million) for its 2010 programs. If the loans for whaling are revoked it is highly unlikely that the ICR can continue to operate. The final decision is now with the Cabinet.

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The news came just hours before President Barack Obama was due to arrive in Tokyo and whaling was an agenda item to be discussed with new Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama. Greenpeace International Whales campaigner Sara Holden said, "Prime Minister Hatoyama has a unique opportunity to signal he is serious about his promises to clean up government spending by ending this controversial, corrupt and wasteful programme." She urged President Obama to "support Prime Minister Hatoyama" and at the same time, uphold his election promise of ending whaling in the southern oceans.

Japan's scientific research program has been controversial since the 1986 moratorium was put in place by the IWC. Japan have traditionally claimed that scientific whaling was required to understand whales feeding ecology, stock structure and other issues important for sustainable catches. Critics argue that very little in the way of published results has come out of the research program and many non lethal research methods can obtain data just as accurately.

Greenpeace activists Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki, who became known as the Tokyo Two, discovered that staff from the government funded ICR were 'stealing' whale meat and selling it illegally. After intercepting a box of illegal whale meat, they presented their evidence to the Tokyo Prosecutors Office in May 2008 and filed a report of embezzlement. However rather than being applauded for uncovering corruption, the pair were arrested in June and held for 26 days before being charged with trespassing and theft. It is believed that the previous Japanese government wanted to use the pair as a warning to any other citizen who might criticize the controversial research program. "These men have been painted as heroes," said Joji Morishita the former consulate for the Japanese governments Fisheries Agency. "They're not heroes."

The two activists are still awaiting trial and are facing a possible sentence of up to ten years in prison. How Prime Minister Hatoyama's new government responds to the whaling issue may influence their case. The recommended cuts to ICR funding could be an early indication, or it may simply be a budget cut. The Obama administration on the other hand, has clearly stated that it 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. It remains to be seen whether these changes will have a significant effect on whaling or the Tokyo Two.
©2009 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Marcel Herbke

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