Winston Peters critical as Japan announces whaling will resume

Sir Geoffrey Palmer

"We will not hunt in the Antarctic waters or in the southern hemisphere", Suga added.

The Japanese government, which began scientific whaling in 1987, a year after the worldwide whaling moratorium was introduced, has long maintained that most whale species are not endangered - six of the world's 13 "great whale species" are classified as endangered, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

By leaving the IWC, Japan steps back from the body's founding document, the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, which was signed in 1946.

Leaving the IWC means Japanese whalers will be able to resume hunting in Japanese coastal waters of minke and other whales now protected by the IWC.

It will stop its so-called scientific whaling in the Antarctic Ocean, and only fish in seas near Japan and the country's exclusive economic zone.

Japan has deflected worldwide criticism and staunchly defended commercial whale hunting.

Australia, one of Japan's biggest critics on the issue, said it was "extremely disappointed".

"Whaling is an outdated and unnecessary practice. We continue to hope Japan eventually reconsiders its position and will cease all whaling", he said.

The danger in this move is that Japan will be joined by the countries that have supported its past efforts, thus fracturing the organization that is primarily responsible for the survival of many whale species into the 21st century.

Some towns in Japan such as Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture, have a whaling tradition but have become the focus of intense worldwide pressure by conservation groups.

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Many members of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's conservative Liberal Democratic Party are supporters of whaling, and he himself comes from a constituency where whale hunting remains popular.

But doubts exist about whether Japanese commercial whaling can be economically viable, especially as fewer people than ever are eating whale meat, they said.

In September, Tokyo argued unsuccessfully that stocks of certain species of whale were now sufficient to support renewed hunting.

Japan also suggested in 2007 that it might withdraw from the IWC in protest at the ban on commercial whaling but it was later persuaded by the United States and other countries to remain in the organisation.

Japanese Fisheries Agency official and longtime IWC negotiator Hideki Moronuki said Japan would use the IWC's method to carefully determine a catch quota, but declined to give an estimate.

"The declaration today is out of step with the global community, let alone the protection needed to safeguard the future of our oceans and these majestic creatures".

Japan switched to what it calls research whaling after the IWC imposed a moratorium on commercial whaling in the 1980s, and now says stocks have recovered enough to resume commercial hunts.

Following years of "scientific" whaling, Japan's whalers will resume commercial operations in 2019, according to a government decision.

The resumption of commercial whaling is an unusual decision for Japan, which stresses multilateralism in its diplomacy, and it sparked swift criticism from environmental groups and others who believe all whales should be protected.

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