The Japanese began whaling again Monday, with five whaling boats returning to the port of Kushiro with their first catch in 31 years.
Workers in blue overalls celebrated with sake as two minke whales were lifted from boats by crane and placed on the back of a truck to transport them to a portside factory for processing, The Associated Press reported.
“We hope commercial whaling will be on track as soon as possible, contribute to local prosperity and carry on Japan’s rich whale culture to the next generation,” Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasutoshi Nishimura told reporters.
Fisheries Agency officials said the whale catch was a surprise for the fleet’s initial fishing trip, slated to be largely ceremonial. The whale meat will be sold at market Thursday, where whalers hope to yield 2,000 yen per kilogram, or about $18 per 2.2 pounds.
The International Whaling Commission (IWC) banned commercial whaling in 1988, forcing the Japanese to convert to “research whaling,” which many accused of being a cover for hunting since the meat was still sold. Japan said six months ago it would withdraw from the IWC. (RELATED: Environmentalists Are Furious After Japan Ditches International Ban On Commercial Whaling)
As the practice of commercial whaling is condemned by conservation groups, Japan’s return to the practice will take place only within the economic zone, defined as 200 nautical miles offshore, under a reduced quota of 227 whales.
While Japanese whaling practices have been scrutinized, the industry actually employs less than 1,000 people and government statistics showed whale meat consumption to be only 0.1% of the total for 2017.
Having peaked once at 223,000 tons, whale meat has been replaced over the years by other protein sources and was reduced by 6,000 tons in 1986 just before the IWC banned the practice.
Japan consumes about 3,000 tons of whale meat annually from a variety of sources, including importing 1,000 tons of choicer cuts from places like Iceland and Norway, according to The New York Times.
Fisheries Agency official Hideki Moronuki said the success of Japan’s return to commercial whaling will depend on consumer demand and if Japan’s government will adequately subsidize fisheries so the meat will be affordable.
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