No. 36 — September 22,, 2000


Weekly Review

--- by Jon Choy

The Japanese government's continued insistence on taking a limited number of specific whale species for scientific research once again has provoked an American response to this controversial practice. Significantly, the issues have not changed since 1982, when the International Whaling Commission voted to halt the killing of whales for commercial purposes. Tokyo still maintains that its scientific program is needed to prove that certain whale species have populations numerous enough to support a carefully controlled harvest. Anti-whaling nations counter that such data can be gathered by nonlethal means. At the same time, the Japanese repeatedly bristle at what they consider to be an effort by the United States and other countries to dictate culinary, ethical and environmental norms that reject the eating of whale and dolphin meat. For environmentalists, whaling illustrates how greed can push a species to the brink of extinction as well as mankind's lack of empathy for the other intelligent creatures that share this planet.

The start of this transpacific controversy dates back to 1972, when the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment adopted a U.S.-sponsored resolution calling for the creation of a more influential global body to regulate whaling — the International Whaling Commission — and for a 10-year ban on commercial harvesting. Following the formation of the IWC, the United States led a decade-long lobbying effort to ban commercial whaling, an effort crowned by the 1982 IWC vote. The commission acted to halt commercial whaling after the 1985 season, arguing that the populations of several species of whales had been so depleted that their survival was uncertain. Tokyo refused to go along with the proposed ban, incurring Washington's wrath.

In the 1970s, American environmentalists had successfully pressed for teeth to be added to Washington's anti-whaling policy. Their campaign resulted in the Pelly Amendment to the Fishermen's Protective Act of 1967 and the Packwood-Magnuson Amendment to the Fishery Conservation and Management Act. The former legislation gives the White House the power to embargo imports of fishery products from countries that sponsor operations that "diminish the effectiveness of any international fishery conservation program." The Packwood-Magnuson amendment orders a cut of at least 50 percent in the right to fish in U.S.-controlled waters for any country that is certified by the secretary of Commerce as acting counter to the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, the IWC's charter.

During the 1987 whaling season, Tokyo initiated a scientific program aimed at the minke whale, a relatively small and still-numerous cetacean, under a provision of the IWC ban on commercial whaling. Japanese experts had proposed the taking of more than 800 minkes — a number equal to about one-third of Japan's annual commercial catch — to examine the contents of their stomachs for information on their diet and their ears for data on minke demographics. Even though the IWC did not restrict research whaling, the Japanese plan was condemned by the United States and other anti-whaling nations as a facade intended to cover up continued commercial whaling. The meat, they pointed out, would be sold to fish markets. Tokyo countered that the IWC's rules mandated that the products of whales taken for research not be wasted.

Unconvinced by these arguments, Washington imposed sanctions on Japan's maritime industry in early 1988 based on the Pelly and the Packwood-Magnuson clauses. After several rounds of talks, Tokyo agreed to reduce its planned catch to 440 animals in the South Pacific and Antarctic waters and Washington dropped its punitive measures. However, Japan faced another round of international condemnation after 1994, when it instituted a plan to take 100 minke whales from Northern Pacific waters. Undaunted, it has continued scientific whaling in accordance with IWC rules, ignoring the protests of the United States and other anti-whaling nations.

Since 1996, Tokyo also has been pushing hard for the easement or the elimination of the commercial whaling ban. Armed with data gathered from the country's scientific whaling program, Japanese delegates have argued to fellow IWC members that minke whale stocks are abundant enough to support carefully controlled and monitored commercial whaling operations. The IWC's basic charter, they add, calls for the sustainable use of marine mammals; it does not include a complete prohibition on whaling. However, the weight of global sentiment clearly remained on the side of environmentalists, and these arguments fell on deaf ears — that is, until this year's IWC annual meeting.

After 13 years of effort, Japan and other pro-whaling nations convinced the commission to resume its work on a set of legal and scientific guidelines for the regulation of commercial whaling. If the Revised Management Scheme is finished according to plan, IWC-sanctioned taking of abundant whale species could begin as soon as the 2001-02 fishing season (see JEI Report No. 28B, July 21, 2000).

This important gain for Japan was offset, however, by the strong negative response to its plan, announced last spring, to broaden the nation's controversial scientific whaling program to include 50 Bryde's whales and 10 sperm whales. The "endangered" classification of these species under U.S. conservation laws placed the Japanese initiative squarely in the cross hairs of the Pelly and the Packwood-Magnuson amendments. Along with President Clinton, the leaders of Australia, Great Britain and New Zealand have used various multinational and bilateral meetings to urge Japan to forgo the killing of these two species. After Tokyo indicated that it would press ahead with its expanded research program, Washington canceled a bilateral session on fisheries issues and declined to participate in at least two multilateral conservation meetings hosted by the Japanese.

Secretary of Commerce Norman Mineta certified September 13 that Japan's actions had diminished the effectiveness of the international ban on commercial whaling and were in violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The White House followed up immediately by barring Japanese fishing boats from operating in U.S.-controlled waters — a mostly symbolic action since no Japanese vessels currently are working American waters. Mr. Mineta's certification also started the Packwood-Magnuson amendment's 60-day clock for negotiating a settlement of the dispute. U.S. trade officials stress that they are serious about the sanctions but that they are even more committed to a resolution.

Predictably, Tokyo reacted strongly, threatening to take the issue to the World Trade Organization. Simultaneously, the government extended an olive branch in the form of an offer to slash its research whaling to just 100 animals this season. Tokyo, however, has not proposed ending its scientific program.

Japanese officials likened the U.S. sanctions to cultural imperialism, asking how Americans would react if, for example, India imposed penalties against the United States for allowing cows, sacred creatures to many Indians, to be slaughtered for food. With the intellectual and the emotional gulfs separating the two sides as wide as ever, it is not clear that an accommodation can be reached. Environmentalists are hoping that Mr. Clinton — concerned that the legacy of his administration be positive — will harpoon Japan's whaling policies.

The views expressed in this report are those of the author
and do not necessarily represent those of the Japan Economic Institute

Issue Index aaaa 2000 Archive Index aaaa Subscriber Area aaaa Home