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Japanese minister's comments on whaling upset environmentalists

February 27, 2013|By Emily Alpert
  • Japan's fisheries minister, Yoshimasa Hayashi, during an interview Tuesday at his office in Tokyo.
Japan's fisheries minister, Yoshimasa Hayashi, during an interview… (Toru Yamanaka / AFP/Getty…)

A Japanese minister has set off a new uproar about whaling by reportedly insisting that his country need not give up the practice, calling it a key source of food and a cultural tradition.

Fisheries minister Yoshimasa Hayashi apparently made no mention of the legal justification that Japan routinely uses for whaling,  that it is needed for scientific research. Global rules against killing whales include a loophole for such studies, but environmentalists have long maintained that Japan is abusing that loophole to kill whales for their meat.

“Japan is an island nation surrounded by the sea, so taking some good protein from the ocean is very important,” Yoshimasa Hayashi  said Tuesday, according to Agence France-Presse. “For food security I think it's very important.”

Australian environmental minister Tony Burke, whose country has been sharply critical of Japanese whaling, said Hayashi had conceded that the controversial killing of whales by Japanese crews had nothing to do with research, tweeting that Japan had “abandoned any pretense of a so called scientific reason.”

Though reaction Wednesday centered on what Hayashi had said, the battle over Japanese whaling has already gone far beyond a war of words, flaring on the seas and in the courts.

Clashes have repeatedly erupted between Japanese vessels and environmental activists trying to stop them from killing whales.  In one of the latest episodes, a Japanese whaling group claims the Australia activist group Sea Shepherd rammed ships Monday. Sea Shepherd countered that a whaling ship rammed its boats after activists blocked one of the vessels from refueling.

Japanese whalers celebrated after a U.S. appeals court judge labeled Sea Shepherd as "pirates" late Monday, explaining why the court opposed an earlier ruling from a lower court and issued a December injunction banning Sea Shepherd from going within 500 yards of the ships.

“You don’t need a peg leg or an eye patch,” U.S. 9th Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski wrote. “When you ram ships … you are, without a doubt, a pirate, no matter how high-minded you believe your purpose to be.”

Sea Shepherd United States, which says it is a legal entity  separate  from Sea Shepherd Australia, contends that the court's restrictions apply only to the American organization.

"The claims of piracy are ridiculous," said Scott West, intelligence and investigations director for Sea Shepherd United States.

Sea Shepherd Australia said this month that its actions are “all within the confines of the law,” a way of stopping illegal hunting in an Antarctic whale sanctuary.

The Australian government has not sent its own ships, “so it is left to the nonviolent, supremely dedicated nongovernment organization, Sea Shepherd Australia, to intervene to uphold the laws of nature and nations,” Sea Shepherd Australia board member Bob Brown wrote Wednesday in an op-ed published by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Japan has killed thousands of whales without valuable research to show for it, according to a recent report from the International Fund for Animal Welfare. Meanwhile, demand for whale meat has plunged in Japan, with large amounts of meat going unsold, the group said, signs of a dwindling appetite that undercuts the idea that whaling is a crucial source of food and a hallowed tradition, it said.

Hayashi pressed the point of view that whaling is an important Japanese tradition in his interview with the AFP.

“We have never said everybody should eat whale, but we have a long tradition and culture of whaling,” the minister said. “So why don’t we at least agree to disagree? We have this culture and you don’t have that culture.”

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