Whaling: Will Greenpeace trial in Japan put whalers on notice?
Two Greenpeace activists in Japan face up to 10 years in prison for tactics used in exposing black market sales of whale meat. Anti-whaling groups hope Monday's trial helps turn Japanese public opinion against the whale harvest.
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While the institute declined an interview request, Mr. Kobu of the Japan Whaling Association says the institute produces between 4,000 and 4,500 metric tons of whale meat per year from its research program. Most of that ends up on restaurant tables, likely including the Shibuya shop (the manager at the Shibuya restaurant declined a request for an interview).Skip to next paragraph
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Fried whale meat used to be served in school lunches, though that's now limited to a few coastal communities, Kubo says. He adds that Japan supports "sustainable" whaling, meaning it does not kill endangered or depleted species, but targets more abundant species like the minke whale. He says Japan has a low "food self-sufficiency," and must secure its own food resources. He complains that the IWC promised to review the moratorium by 1990, but did not.
"Public opinion strongly supports whaling," asserts Kubo, though he acknowledges less support from young Japanese. "What we are afraid of is that the whale meat diet culture will disappear."
Reliable polls are hard to come by. The whaling association points to a 2002 survey by the prime minister's office, and could not provide more recent numbers. That poll found 76 percent support for hunting minke whales, if such whaling were "based on scientific evidence so that there was no adverse impact on whale resources." Ten percent of those polled were opposed. The latest poll commissioned by Greenpeace Japan from 2008 found 44 percent of respondents were neither for nor against resuming commercial whaling; 31 percent were pro and 25 percent were against. But the poll, by the Nippon Research Center, only sampled those who signed up on a website.
Taxpayer money subsidizes 'research'
Greenpeace Japan says change is more likely under the new Democratic Party of Japan-led government, which has railed against wasteful spending.
Junichi Sato, an activist with Greenpeace Japan, says pro-whaling groups were "switching the argument" because their scientific research defense was not persuasive. Mr. Sato says Japan didn't begin large-scale whaling off Antarctica until after World War II, and used equipment and ships imported from Norway.
Sato argues that the government uses taxpayer money – 500 million yen per year (about $5.5 million), according to his group – to subsidize "research" whaling. He's one of two Greenpeace Japan activists who in 2008 alleged embezzlement of whale meat by research vessel crews.
The two were later charged with theft and trespassing over their obtaining of a package of whale meat at a transport depot, which they later turned over to prosecutors. They face 10 years' jail time, and their trial – with testimony from a "whistle-blower" inside the whaling industry and two whaling fleet crew members – is set to open Monday.
Sato and other activists hope to turn the event into a trial on Japanese whaling. "The protests have to come from the Japanese public, saying 'This is a waste of taxpayers' money,' " said Sato. "We as Japanese citizens are losing so much respect from the international community on this issue, and more Japanese are starting to realize that."