Japanese whaling will come to an end - the question is simply when

Feature Story - 2011-01-30
Big changes inside Japan's whaling industry: a public apology from the powerful fisheries agency, demotions, and even the industry admits that public demand for whale meat is down. Junichi Sato sums up the latest developments in Greenpeace's campaign to end whaling in Japan:

Junichi Sato, Executive and Programme Director of Greenpeace Japan

On December 22, 2010, the Fisheries Agency of Japan (FAJ) acknowledged and publicly apologised for embezzlement within the whaling industry. An official from the powerful agency gave a 90 degree bow of apology on national television and explained that five officers were being punished for accepting around 272,000 Yen (approximately USD$3,000) worth of whale meat 'gifts'.

This is hard evidence that the whale meat embezzlement scandal exposed by Toru and I back in 2008, and supported in court with witness statements, did in fact exist, and that the corruption stretched from the factory-ship floor right up into the government agencies overseeing the whaling programme. Straight from the horse's mouth, and on national television no less.

The bow in the video may look like posturing, but I can assure you that this was very unusual for Japan - particularly considering this was about whaling! An FAJ official apologising for something whaling-related would have been unthinkable only a few months ago, yet here we are.

The FAJ confirmed that the five officials who received whale meat faced disciplinary action. Toru and I intercepted a box of embezzled whale meat in 2008, and used it to expose the embezzlement scandal the FAJ has now admitted to. We were tried on allegations of 'theft' and 'trespass' and handed a one year sentence, suspended for three, in 2010. We don't know what exact punishment the officials have been handed, but we know that they have not been put on trial or given jail time. The meat they admitted accepting was worth roughly six times what Toru and I were accused of taking.

Workers unload whale meat from the Nisshin Maru, Japan's factory-whaling ship, which returns to the Southern Ocean every year for so called "science".

Since the apology in December, more information has come to light, and the agency has admitted that another two key officials (managers) have also been officially warned. One of these senior managers was Jun Yamashita, the number two civil servant at the FAJ and a prominent negotiator at the International Whaling Commission (IWC) meetings. Yamashita has since left the agency altogether.

This is a major development and a wholly positive one for an end to Japanese whaling. Yamashita was involved in the various whaling negotiations, including a meeting of pro-whaling factions in Shimonoseki last November.

The Tokyo Two trial, the FAJ apologies and demotions, and a surge in media coverage questioning the corrupt whaling programme have all impacted Japanese public opinion (especially considering the utter lack of interest in eating whale meat). People are beginning to see that whaling serves no purpose and does not benefit Japan. For my father's generation, whale meat was everywhere: in schools, supermarkets, and izakayas (Japanese-style pubs). These days, signs of the whaling industry are hard to find and the stockpile of frozen meat is at an all-time high, despite reduced catches and serious - but failed - marketing attempts to get rid of the stockpile.

Last week, Kazuo Yamamura, the CEO of whaling fleet operator Kyodo Senpaku and head of the Japan Whaling Association (JWA), also admitted that whale-meat sales dropped 30% in the first half of the 2010 fiscal year, forcing the JWA - the largest promoter of whale meat in Japan - to downscale its activities. The situation is clear: the industry is slipping faster and faster down the spiral. Our campaign to hit whale-meat sales in Japan is surely working.

The fleet is ailing, each year they voluntarily catch less whales that they cannot sell or afford to keep storing. The stockpiled meat and the lack of revenue means the ships cannot be maintained or replaced without even more substantial injections of public money. The government should not waste any more money on this programme given that these recent admissions are clearly just the tip of the iceberg.

With all of these different threads of change coming together, I am confident that what we are seeing is the last chapter of Japan's whaling program. If our appeal is successful and Toru's and my conviction is overturned by the High Court on May 24, then we will undoubtedly be even closer to closing the book.

Thank you for your continuing support!

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