Japan fires harpoon at whale ban

Ignoring strong American warnings, a defiant but uneasy Japan decided to lodge a formal complaint against the total whaling ban imposed by the International Whaling Commission, Monitor contributor Geoffrey Murray reports.

Despite Japanese protests, the 36-member commission at its annual conference last July in Brighton, England, voted to ban all commercial whaling beginning in 1986 so as to protect many species now close to extinction. This Thursday was the deadline for a formal protest to be filed with the commission secretariat.

Despite concern over possible US sanctions (the United States has threatened economic sanctions on any ban violator), a high government source told the Monitor that Japan had no choice but to declare its objections to the ban, since commercial whaling is a traditional, centuries-old industry of Japan and the government feels duty-bound to protect it.

The commission action would affect the jobs of 1,300 people still directly involved in whaling - a pale shadow of the flourishing industry that existed up to 20 years ago - and another 50,000 people in related industries.

Opponents of whaling would regard these figures as hardly worth the consideration of the Tokyo government, considering the worldwide opprobrium Japan incurs by continuing to kill whales. But far weightier in government minds is the consideration mentioned by the senior official that ''it would be difficult to justify to the nation how a traditional industry had been allowed to disappear under foreign pressure.''

Japanese government officials privately express concern that Japan's tough stand could affect US ratification of a new bilateral fishing treaty and catch quota allocation for Japanese fishermen operating within the American 200-mile fishery conservation zone.

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