Japan to quit whaling treaty and return to commercial hunting in 2019

Packs of whale meat hang at a whale meat specialty store at Tokyo’s Ameyoko shopping district in Japan

"We have made a decision to withdraw from the International Whaling Commission in order to resume commercial whaling in July next year", top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga told reporters.

Top official spokesperson Yoshihide Suga said, Tokyo will officially inform the IWC of its decision by the end of the year, which will mean the withdrawal comes into effect by June 30.

Japan has also continued to hunt smaller species of whales that are not covered by the IWC in its coastal waters.

Japan has defied the protests to conduct what it calls scientific research whaling, having repeatedly said its ultimate goal was to whale commercially again.

By the way, today's announcement doesn't mean that Japan hasn't been hunting whales all this time.

The IWC, which imposed a commercial moratorium in the 1980s due to a dwindling whale population, rejected Tokyo's request to resume commercial whaling in September.

The small town in western Japan has frequently faced demonstrations by anti-whaling groups after gaining worldwide attention in the Oscar-winning 2009 USA conservationist documentary film "The Cove", which was critical of the local fishing industry for killing and capturing dolphins in drive hunts. It caps its Antarctic catch with a quota of 333 whales annually.

"Commercial whaling. will be limited to Japan's territorial waters and exclusive economic zones".

While it's estimated that whaling employs only about 1,000 people in Japan and there's little demand for its end product, it serves a political objective similar to that of coal in the United States: it allows Japanese leaders to assert their independence from the global community while appealing to those nostalgic for a traditional way of life.

Greenpeace Japan Executive Director Sam Annesley accused Japan's government of "trying to sneak in this announcement at the end of year" to avoid worldwide scrutiny.

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Japan has hunted whales for centuries, and the meat was a key source of protein in the immediate post-World War II years when the country was desperately poor.

Japan once labeled its whaling vessels with prominent "Research" tags - but the country will resume commercial whaling hunts in 2019.

In a joint statement, Australia's Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Environment Minister Melissa Price said they were "extremely disappointed" with Japan's decision.

"We will continue to work within the commission to uphold the global moratorium on commercial whaling".

The Fisheries Agency said Japan plans to catch three kinds of whale that are believed to have sufficient stocks - minke, sei and Bryde's.

"This is the path of a pirate whaling nation, with a troubling disregard for global rule", she added.

"The government of Japan must urgently act to conserve marine ecosystems, rather than resume commercial whaling".

"With this move the Japanese government is officially turning its back on global cooperation around conservation measures, and one of the greatest conservation agreements ever made - the ban on commercial whaling", said Astrid Fuchs of Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC).

Last season, its scientific research expeditions caught almost 600 whales in the Antarctic and the northwest Pacific.

A 73-year-old woman was hopeful that the resumption of commercial whaling would lead to the revival of Taiji, but said she fears "violent anti-whaling activities could increase" in the future.

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