Whale hunt may be suspended

Reports from Japan indicate its annual whale hunt in the Southern Ocean could be in doubt this year.

A leading newspaper says the country’s Fisheries Agency is considering suspending the hunt because the fleet’s ageing factory ship is in need of major repairs.

But as Latelines’s North Asia correspondent Mark Willacy reports from Tokyo, the agency insists the refit can be done in time.

MARK WILLACY, REPORTER: It’s become an annual clash on the high seas, between Japanese whalers and militant activists from the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. But now it appears Japan is considering a temporary ceasefire with a leading newspaper reporting that the whalers may stay in port this year.

JUNICHI SATO, GREENPEACE JAPAN: The Asahi news report says that the Fisheries Agency with Japan is considering not to send a ship to Southern Ocean whaling because the Nisshin Maru, the mother ship, needs to be repaired.

MARK WILLACY: The 8,000 tonne Nisshin Maru has been the flagship of the fleet since Japan started so-called scientific whaling 25 years ago. In recent years it’s been battered and bruised in Antarctic confrontations, with Japan’s Fisheries Agency telling the ABC the ageing ship needs repairs.

Just what sort of repairs and how long they’ll take will be the subject of a meeting here in Tokyo later this week. But the ABC understands the repairs could take some time and that could rule out the whaling fleet’s return to the Southern Ocean for this year at least.

RACHEL SIEWERT, AUSTRALIAN GREENS: It doesn’t make any economic sense for them to pursue whaling. We know they haven’t been able to sell the whale meat. We know it’s a nonsense they’re doing research, that this is about research.

MARK WILLACY: But there could be another reason for Japan wanting to pull back from its loss-making whaling program. Huge bills for tsunami reconstruction and hundreds of billions in compensation claims for the Fukushima nuclear disaster have strained Japan’s coffers.

Then there’s the fact very few here actually eat whale, with more than 6,000 tonnes of whale meat sitting unwanted in freezers around the country.

JUNICHI SATO: This whaling program is unwanted by the Japanese people. The demand of the whale meat is going down and every year they’re stealing money from the public. So the retirement of the Nisshin Maru is such a good opportunity for the Japanese Government to withdraw from this program.

MARK WILLACY: If the anchor is dropped on this year’s hunt, it’ll enrage Japanese ultra-nationalists and members of the right-wing opposition. To them, whaling is a tradition, even if it’s in the frigid waters of the Southern Ocean more than 10,000 kilometres away.

Source: Lateline