By Elaine Lies
TOKYO, April 17 Japan is considering scrapping a
Northwest Pacific whale hunt just days before the fleet's
planned departure, media said on Thursday, as the government
grapples with its response to an international court ruling
against its main whale hunt.
In a blow to Tokyo's decades-old and disputed "scientific
whaling" programme, the International Court of Justice (ICJ)
last month ordered a halt to its annual hunts in the Southern
Ocean, prompting Japan to cancel its 2014-2015 Antarctic hunt,
the programme's mainstay, as it pledged to abide by the ruling.
The judgment did not specifically mention Japan's other
whaling hunts, one small-scale one off its coastline and the
other across a wide swathe of the Northwest Pacific during the
spring and summer, with a quota of nearly 400 whales.
But Tokyo, trapped between the demands of pro-whaling
lawmakers and international pressure from allies such as the
United States, is considering calling off the Pacific hunt too,
the Yomiuri Shimbun daily said.
"The government is currently racking its brains about
whether or not to allow the Northwest Pacific whaling, set to
start on April 22, to take place," the paper said, adding that
the timing - with U.S. President Barack Obama scheduled to
arrive in Japan on April 23 - was unfortunate.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news
conference that the government was looking at the issue.
"All aspects are being considered as the government studies
the ruling and decides how it will respond," added Suga.
On Thursday, a group of ruling party lawmakers asked
Kazuyoshi Honkawa, director-general of the Fisheries Agency, to
delay the fleet's departure until April 26, the day after Obama
leaves, and Honkawa said he would look into it.
"The government is aware of this move," Suga told a later
news conference, adding that a decision on the programme should
The ICJ's judgment centred on the Antarctic hunt, which has
a catch quota of just over 1,000 whales - including minke, fin
whales and humpbacks - saying there was insufficient evidence
that the research objectives justified "the lethal sampling".
"When you study the ruling, it contains a section where they
call on Japan to take another look at its whaling programme,"
said an official at the Fisheries Agency. "So there may well be
an impact on other research whaling too."
The take in recent years has fallen off sharply, in part due
to campaigns by anti-whaling groups, with only 103 minke killed
in 2012-2013. By contrast, the Pacific hunt, which has garnered
little attention, took 319 whales against its quota of 360 that
same year, including three sperm whales.
The groups which carry out the whaling programme said last
week in a court filing that they expect to resume whaling in the
Antarctic from the 2015-2016 season, albeit with a modified
Other observers say Japan might see this as a good chance to
get out of whaling, given the expense of running the programme
and refurbishing its ageing fleet even as appetite for whale
(Editing by Nick Macfie)