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It’s 1999 all over again

Japan’s arguments in the ICJ today reminded me of the 1999 ruling by the International Tribunal For the Law of the Sea with respect to Japan’s proposal to start ‘scientific tuna fishing’ for endangered Southern Bluefin tuna.

Recently,  Scientific American discussed the fact that Japan is not regulating some of its own fisheries on scientific advice,

‘The high market value of Bluefin has contributed to its popularity and subsequent decline. In January 2013, a single fish was auctioned off for $1.76 million (Foster 2013). While tighter regulations have been implemented as called by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, they have not been strictly enforced in Japan. Ties between the government and fishing industry, a largely apathetic media and sushi-craving public have not helped the situation.’

In a case that has some similartities to the current ICJ case, in that the adverseries Australia, New Zealand and Japan were then also involved, Australia and New Zealand won an injunction from the 22 member bench of the International Tribunal, set up under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS ). Japan’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Mashahiko Komura, said it would comply without delay with the order.

At the time we argued that this decision may set an important legal precedent representing the first abitration of a dispute between nations by the tribunal. 

Australia led the action against Japan after talks between the three nations broke down within the Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna (CCSBT ), which is the regional fisheries management body responsible for conserving the fish. In 1998, Japan awarded itself an ‘experimental quota’ of 2,000 tonnes of tuna on top of the quota allocated by the CCSBT

So why when its dealing with a product its public do want to eat, Bluefin tuna, does Japan agree with an international ruling on so-called ‘scientific fishing’ but when it comes to whales and whale meat it refuses to abide by the IWC.

This is especially pertinent in that in the same article Scientific American also reports that Japan’s public are no longer clamouring for whale meat, with, ‘public sentiment towards whaling is not what it once was, with 54% of Japanese indifferent to whaling and only 11% supporting its continuation’ (Ryall, J. (2013). Study Sinks Japan’s ‘scientific Whaling’ Program, Deutsche Welle. Web. 20 March 2013).

Maybe , as Scientific American notes, ‘…Ties between the government and fishing industry…’ means that Japan’s position is not about representing its public, but the interests of the commercial and political linakages of a small number of people who appear to be still living in the last century, with a fear that other fisheries will be next for international control, and a smaller group of civil servants who are clinging to the continuation of a controversy that their personal positions and jobs rely on.