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Coastal Whaling in Japan to Resume?

The United States, a former whaling power, and Japan, a historical and current harvester of the species, are again at odds over whaling regulations. In March, the International Whaling Commission met in Rome to discuss a whaling deal presented by IWC Chairman William Hogarth — appointed by former President Bush — and the IWC Small Working Group. The negotiations were an attempt to strike a deal with Japan that will allow commercial whaling in its coastal waters to resume, ending the two-decades-old international moratorium on commercial whaling. Coastal whaling is seen as a major threat to conservation of whale species.

The deal has two options regarding Japan’s controversial government sponsored scientific whaling program in the Southern Ocean: a phase out or phase down. However, Japan’s minister of Agriculture and Fisheries stated that any agreement that ended Japan’s scientific whaling was unacceptable, yet Japan has not specified how many fewer whales they might take in the Antarctic in exchange for legalized coastal whaling.

The agreement does not address trading in whale meat, Icelandic and Norwegian whaling, or the massacre by Japan of some 23,000 dolphins annually. In particular, juvenile minke whales are the most affected due to their exemption from minimum length requirements. Unfortunately, it is common practice for most minke carcasses to be wasted.

Prior to the IWC meeting in Rome, the Obama administration announced that they opposed lifting the moratorium on commercial whaling and wanted to end scientific whaling. Japan happens to be in defiance of the majority of the IWC and international norms.

Earth Island Institute and other organizations have been meeting with members of Congress and the Obama administration to preserve protections for whales. The Hogarth Deal negotiators are expected to finalize a deal by May 18, at which point details will be made public. Environmentalists hope Obama representatives will represent the US delegation at the June 22-26 IWC meeting in Madeira. If the Hogarth Deal goes through, other nations may follow suit, resulting in a severe impact on whale populations.

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