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2007 SOMETHING has to give after the 2007 International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting in Alaska yielded no progress in Japan's push for a commercial whaling quota. So says Joji Morishita, director for international negotiations at Japan's Fisheries Agency and alternate commissioner to the IWC. In an interview with FNI's Tom Seaman, he covers what the next steps will be for Japan, its frustrations with the IWC's structure and the misconceptions that surround Japan's long-running bid for a renewal of whaling in its domestic waters. The country has had three fisheries ministers in recent months due to a period of political uncertainty followed by the resignation of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. This may further delay any action on the whaling issues. FNI: How do you see Japan's approach to the IWC in the aftermath of Anchorage 2007 and the lead-up to Chile 2008? Joji Morishita: One thing is certain and that is very clear from our last statement at the IWC. We said that we have done everything we can do; we have tried being aggressive and, also, tried to accommodate. Japan has made every possible proposal for the last 20 years and nothing worked. Now we have to step back from the IWC and try to find out any other actions that we can take. It is clear that we cannot expect something positive for the time being unless the general atmosphere or culture of the IWC changes. FNI: What will these actions involve? JM: They could be a withdrawal or an initiation of a new organisation. Also, from our point of view the instigation of a proposal to get a small type coastal whaling quota in Japan's 200-mile zone. There are many voices domestically that are calling for a unilateral resumption of whaling activities in our 200 mile zone, as it is our water. We will start putting these forward, in consultation with other countries that are supporting the sustainable use of whales, like Iceland and Norway and, also, some of the developing countries. FNI: What stage are these possibilities at? JM: Finally we are in a position where we can start something now. Over the summer we lost ground because of the domestic political situation, but you will see something over the coming months. Now, all I can say is that things have not started yet. FNI: Will you be represented at the IWC meeting in Chile in 2008?
JM: My guess is we will be there, but the Japanese delegation will be much smaller in a physical sense and, also, less active towards the IWC meeting itself. We have almost no hope to achieve anything in the IWC. We will not prevent or disrupt discussion, but I do not think that, unlike previous meetings, we will make any strong points. FNI: How do you feel about the Anchorage meeting in retrospect? JM: At the Anchorage meeting we stepped forward in some of the fields in terms of the approach we took, but the end result was the same. Japan went as far as to say that, if the IWC and extreme anti-whaling countries were prepared to accept our proposal for small coastal type whaling, we would be prepared to talk about some reduction in our Arctic research whaling activities. In a usual organisation, this would be possible because it is a very clear give and take. It was a very bold decision on our side to talk about a give and take situation. But, in this case, Australia and New Zealand said they will not give us anything but Japan has to give back. That was just one indication of the dysfunctional situation of the IWC where there is no willingness to talk. You need some degree of mutual trust. You don't need to trust the other side 100% to achieve a deal. But if you don't trust the other side at all, then you can't talk about a deal. If an organisation cannot come to a deal then what is the point of its existence? FNI: Does Japan have a future in the IWC? JM: Japan is not hoping that the IWC is dead; we tried to save this organisation. That's why we started the so-called normalisation of IWC. FNI: How do you explain the meaning of normalising the IWC? JM: Japan and the other members supporting the sustainable use of whale resources have expressed their commitment to normalising. We are convinced that the IWC can be saved from its current crisis only by respect for and good faith interpretation of the 1946 International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW). This means protecting endangered and depleted species while allowing the sustainable utilisation of abundant species under a controlled, transparent and science-based management regime. FNI: What do you see as the main issues with the IWC? JM: The middle countries do not get heard. For example, Sweden is not against whaling per se, they just want to establish measures to ensure that future whaling would not over-harvest stocks. I would say that The Netherlands and, probably, also South Africa have similar opinions. However, whenever we have a vote it is always black and white: there are no middle groups.
There have been a few attempts in previous IWC meetings to establish middle groups, but every time it has failed. If it fails again this time in Chile, then the IWC will be dead, in a sense. FNI: How did the political failure of the Icelandic return to whaling reverberate in Japan? JM: Of course they talked to us about it; this time the decision was made not to give another commercial whaling quota, but that does not mean that they have quit commercial whaling. Like other fisheries activities, they decide the size of the quota taking into account economic factors and other situations. It is no secret that we are talking with them about international trade, which is not completed yet. However, the Icelandic government has decided to wait and see what happens with our negotiations and see how that develops before they issue an initial quota. In Iceland, like us, their basic position is that whale hunting is nothing different from any other fishery or seafood. In the seafood business it is quite normal to take fish and export for the economy. It doesn't make sense that exporting fish is OK, but exporting whale meat is not OK. They keep saying that they would like to normalise whale and whale trading, just like any other seafood trading. FNI: What do you see as normalising whaling? JM: By normalisation I mean that whaling should be structured like any other fishery, with quota. They might take the entire quota or half the quota, depending on the situation. Also, they might choose to sell the product domestically or abroad, to Japan or Norway or other countries. Last year they had already conducted some trading between Norway and Iceland. In our case the supply is still limited as it is a by-product of our research activities. FNI: What is the demand for whale products in Japan? JM: In 1962 the domestic market was largest, at that time 200,030 tonnes consumed. The by-product from research and small scale domestic whaling consumed annually is now around 7000 tonnes. It is only 2/3% of 40 years ago. I am not saying that 2% should go back to 100%, but the sense of many people in Japan is that there is the potential demand several times larger than 6-7000 tonnes. In Japan, we have been eating whale meat and utilising whale backbones, blubber and oil for more than 9000 years. FNI: How to you respond to the green lobby attitude that whales are endangered and should not be hunted? JM: Many species and stocks of whales are abundant, increasing and recovering from past over harvesting.
The IWC's website (http: //www. iwcoffice. org/) provides population figures agreed by the Scientific Committee. In 1990 the Scientific Committee agreed that there were 760,000 minke whales in the Antarctic. This figure is currently being reconsidered but, even if a new estimate shows a lower figure, there are a large number of minke whales which can be used sustainably. The Scientific Committee also agrees that humpback whales are increasing at about 10% a year. These estimates clearly show that whaling under strict quotas would be sustainable. It must be remembered that the ICRW is about properly managing the whaling industry: that is regulating catch quotas at levels so that whale stocks will not be threatened. It is not about protecting all whales irrespective of their abundance. FNI: How do you answer accusations that Japan's research whaling program is little more than a loophole to go whaling commercially? research whaling program is little more than a loophole to go whaling commercially? JM: Research whaling is a fundamental right of every member of the IWC according to Article VIII of the ICRW. More than 100 data items and samples are taken from each whale, including ear plugs for age determination cycles, reproductive organs for examination of maturation, reproductive cycles and rates, stomach analysis for food consumption and blubber thickness as a measure of condition. Both the quality and the quantity of data from Japan's research whaling programs have been commended by the scientific community. It has noted that the programs have provided considerable data that could be directly relevant for management and the potential to improve the management of minke whales. The Scientific Committee has also noted that non-lethal means to obtain some of this information are unlikely to be successful in the Antarctic. FNI: This year Japan will take fin and humpback whales in the Antarctic. Is this justified under the program? JM: The expansion of the research is based on genuine scientific needs described in detail in Japan's research plan submitted to the IWC. The research area has been expanded, and fin and humpback whales have been added because they are showing rapid increase in the area and have a large role in that ecosystem. Sample sizes have been calculated as the minimum to obtain significant data and have no detrimental effect on stocks. FNI: Why is whaling such a difficult topic in comparison to other stocks? JM: This issue has several different aspects to conventional resource conservation and fisheries management. It is not assessed on the basis of scientific evidence and international law. There are very strong emotions involved and the sense that some people think that this is an issue of
ethics. Some species around the globe have more of an appeal to the general public. Like whales, elephants and tigers, so called icon species. In handling those charismatic species we need to think of more than simple resource management. Also, as this issue involves the wider general public, you cannot avoid a political situation too. Politicians have to consider how the major media reports this situation. And this is often a very different issue to the resource management. Governments will decide their decisions not only on science or economic benefits, but politicians are always thinking about the next election. Most of the time, they decide their positions on public opinion. Japan is not insisting that Australians or Americans eat whale meat, but these countries do not have the right to impose their ethical and moral values on the Japanese as long as the whales are sustainably utilised. FNI: How do you respond to suggestions that Japan has bought support in the IWC from its overseas fisheries aid programs in the developing world? JM: Contrary to claims of anti-whaling interests, Caribbean countries are also whaling nations. They have voted in support of the sustainable use of whales because they use cetacean resources as food themselves. Always it is reported that developing countries vote because of Japan's overseas aid, but, if you think a little more about this issue, then that does not make sense. That argument doesn't stand. If you look at some of the Caribbean countries, economically they depend heavily on the export of sugar cane, bananas and, also, tourism. And who are the tourists and which countries buy the exported products? The answer is the USA and some of the European countries which are all against whaling. Yes, they are receiving fisheries aid from Japan, but if you compare the amount of economic benefit they are getting then it is no comparison. If they are making their position on the side of economic benefits then they should be on the side of the USA or the UK. FNI: Why then do you feel they support Japan's commercial whaling aims? JM: For very fragile economies, the food security issue is very serious. One side is the involvement of the sustainable use and principal of sustainable development. Also, some of the sense of the developing countries is that they would like to establish self-sufficiency in terms of economy and food. They see the whaling issue as a food security issue. They see it as a symbolic issue for freedom of choice for what they are harvesting.
For example, at one of the meetings, the representative of Antigua and Barbuda started talking about bird flu and I couldn't understand why he was talking about bird flu at an IWC meeting. But it turned out his logic was that, in island countries, chicken is a major source of protein. They are importing a huge amount of chicken from the US and Europe. What happens to that international trade when bird flu issue becomes more serious? Europe is talking about stopping that international trade. For developing countries, they do not have any alternative if the chicken export has stopped. They need to have their own way of feeding their people. They are not necessarily talking about taking whales if the export stops, but they are saying that all countries should have the right to choose what they eat. Also, in some areas of Africa, elephants are abundant. But because of their charismatic status, it is difficult to use elephants for their subsistence because of the western attitude to this. From the developing countries' viewpoints, the imposition of this big country attitude to icon species is a very serious issue because of their fragile situation with food security. Only eight species of animals and 15 species of plants are feeding 90% of the world population. For those who are producing those eight species it is a good business. But think about how fragile that is. If one of the eight, or two with bird flu and BSE, suffer then it is the fragile developing countries that suffer. If whales are abundant like in Japanese waters - in fact Japanese waters are one of the most abundant areas for whales - why should we not be able to substantially catch them? We are not saying that we would like to take endangered species but only abundant species. FNI: Are stronger measures being taken to prevent the level of violence seen in the 2006 clashes between research whaling vessels and greens when the fleet heads out in November? JM: I hope with nothing will happen this year. The IWC has adopted a consensus resolution to condemn the violent actions by these organisations. Of course we recognise the right for demonstration, but that does not mean that you can ram the other vessel or throw a fire grenade or a smoke bomb. At some point commonsense should prevail while recognising the differences of opinion about the whaling debate. Even the governments of Australia and New Zealand condemned the actions of Sea Shepherd. FNI: So this is one issue that the IWC is united on then? JM: Yes, this could be one seed where we could co-operate and could be one seed for the IWC to start talking to each other. This difficult situation could unite countries that have different opinions, but we will wait and
see. FNI: Will Nisshin Maru be heading out again after the fire of 2006 that killed one crewman and cut the season short? JM: She has been repaired after the fire; some say in the longer term there should be improvement to the structure of the vessel. It is strong enough under IMO regulations but, at the same time, we can improve the preparation more. You cannot prepare too much for that sort of situation. It is a little bit more longer term. The November issue of FNI will feature Japan, including a continuation of the interview with Joji Morishita covering his role in the formulation of an international Port State agreement to prevent IUU fishing.