For Japanese people who work as whales, July 1 has a very important meaning, because it is the day Japan lifted its ban on trade in whales after 31 years. As soon as the ban was lifted, five Japanese fishing vessels went out to sea and brought back the first two whales since 1986. They were then cut to auction at the market.
During the ceremony before the whale fishing boat set sail, Yoshifumi Kai, chairman of the Japanese Whale Association, said: “I am deeply moved. My heart is trembling.”
Japan on June 30 withdrew from the International Whale Commission (IWC), approved a whaling trade ban in 1986. Since then, Japan has still caught more than 300 whales each. year, but to “serve scientific research”.
Many Japanese fishermen seem to agree with the government lifting a ban on whaling for commercial purposes. “Whaling is part of my life. This job should be restarted. Japan has a culinary culture about whales,” Mitsuhiko Maeda, who has decades of hunting for whales, said. “.
However, the whaling industry is only a small industry in Japan, with about 300 participants. The industry is facing many difficulties such as rising costs and especially the declining whale meat demand of Japanese people. The Japan Fisheries Agency has allocated a budget of about 463 million USD to support whaling in fiscal year 2019.
Hunting and eating whale meat is a part of Japanese traditional culture, formed and maintained in some coastal areas for decades. The Japanese consumed the most whale meat during World War II, when other food sources became scarce.
From the late 1940s until the mid-1960s, whales were the most consumed meat in Japan. In 1964, Japan consumed 154,000 tons of whale meat.
However, this number has recently decreased significantly, as Japanese people have easier access to other foods and less and less salty with whale meat. In 2017, Japan consumes 5,000 tons of whale meat, meaning that each person in the country averages only two tablespoons of whale meat each year.
The Japanese were also enthusiastic about criticizing international environmental and animal rights organizations, when they saw whale meat being sold publicly at the market while the country had not withdrawn from IWC. Many people believe that Japan is pleading for whale fishing for scientific research purposes to maintain the industry of hunting and slaughtering this animal.
Shintaro Sato, owner of a restaurant serving whale meat in Tokyo, hopes the re-launch of whale commercial fishing will help many young people find this meat.
“I don’t think many young people now know how to cook and eat whale meat. I want more and more people to try this kind of meat once in my life,” said Hideki Abe, a whale fisherman, who said before going to sea. Many Japanese fishery officials also hope that resuming commercial fishing will make consumers more interested in whale meat.
However, Patrick Ramage, director of marine conservation at the International Animal Welfare Fund, said the move by the Japanese government is not a “magic wand” that revives the whale industry and market demand.
“The taste of the Japanese has changed,” Ramage said. “They are no longer interested in whale meat, even though the government has spent billions of yen to raise this disastrous industry. What we are seeing is just the beginning of the end of the fishing industry in Japan “.