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Japan has lost its case in the International Court of Justice in The Hague and told it is subject to the moratorium on whaling.

All at WDC warmly welcomes the decision of the International Court (ICJ) in its comprehensive judgment on Japan’s Antarctic Whaling. 

My first reaction is that this is an historic day in the protection of whales and may be the turning point in ending commercial whaling once and for all. It reflects years of work by WDC, other NGOs and conservation minded countries in making the argument that Japan’s Article VIII whaling undermined the moratoria and the Southern Ocean Sanctuary. For too long Japan has unnecessarily killed, without sanction, thousands of whales.  The ICJ has found that Japan’s whaling is not only not justified, but that it has failed to consider if non-lethal means could have been used and so is illegal.

The Court has ruled that Japan’s whaling is not only unscientific according to the IWC rules, but is a contravention of the moratorium on commercial whaling which is massively significant.

But what does this mean for Japanese whaling now?

Japan has already said that it will accept the ruling, which is a welcome first step. But will this mean that Japan will simply increase its hunts in the North Pacific? 

I don’t think so. Why? Well because if it was to do so, it could be taken back to the Court and it would suffer exactly the same criticism as it suffered for increasing its quota for JARPA II from JARPA I – it was not for science but for economics.

Japan argued that it needed to have the lethal takes to fund the research, but the research was found lacking.

What it may well mean is that its Pacific hunts are now totally uneconomic and whilst already subsidised, may be a reach too far for the already over-stretched Japanese treasury.

The Ashai Shimbun of 1st April 2014 quotes Masayuki Komatsu as saying,

‘the court decision is likely to have far-reaching implications, not just in the Antarctic.

“If Japan’s scientific whaling is taken to court based on the reasoning in the current case, the whale hunt in the northwest Pacific could also be ordered to halt,” he said.’

So unable to hunt in the Antarctic, stretched to finance the hunt in the Pacific, Japan may be faced with ending its high seas hunts once and for all.

What we may see is Japan returning to the IWC asking for coastal quotas, but these too have been rejected in the past on grounds of being commercial. Maybe, just maybe, Japan will step back, think on this ruling and look to whether whaling of any kind is actually worthwhile.

The IWC meeting in Slovenia this year is going to be interesting!


What does it mean for Norway and Iceland?

This is most probably the most interesting of questions today. Norway and Iceland have both sought to export their whale meat due to lack of sales at home.

Some might suggest that with Japan unable to flood its own market with Antarctic whale meat, there is a business opportunity for Icelandic and Norwegian whalers, and indeed Iceland has a suspected 2000 tonnes already underway down south.

But this whale meat is destined to join the nearly 5000 tonnes already in storage in Japan and Japan may now well want to refuse any competition for its own remaining whalers. With the US about to issue a statement on Icelandic whaling, the Scandinavian whalers may find that the international market is drying up faster than they can kill whales.


The Ruling of the Court

In a damning ruling the Court has found:

Japan’s whaling in Antarctica does not comply with the IWC’s definition of scientific permit whaling

“…that the special permits granted by Japan in connection with  JARPA II do not fall within the provisions of Article VIII, paragraph 1, of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling;”

That Japan is in contravention with the moratorium on commercial whaling 

“…that Japan, by granting special permits to kill, take and treat finhumpback and Antarctic minke whales in pursuance of JARPA II, has not acted in conformity  with its obligations under paragraph 10 (e) of the Schedule to the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling;”

That Japan is in contravention with the moratorium on factory ship whaling

“…finds, by twelve votes to four, that Japan has not acted in conformity with its obligations underparagraph 10 (d) of the Schedule to the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling in relation to the killing, taking and treating of fin whales in pursuance of JARPA II;”

That Japan is in contravention of the Southern Ocean Sanctuary

“… that Japan has not acted in conformity with its obligations under  paragraph 7 (b) of the Schedule to the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling  in relation to the killing, taking and treating of fin whales in the “Southern Ocean Sanctuary” in  pursuance of JARPA II;”

The Court orders Japan to cease all Antarctic whaling and not to issue any more permits to whale in Antarctica

“… that Japan shall revoke any extant authorization, permit or licence granted in relation to JARPA II, and refrain from granting any further permits in  pursuance of that programme.”

Full statement from the Court