Australia and other anti-whaling nations are set for a showdown with Japan amid reports it will formally seek to lift a ban on commercial whaling so it can slaughter the animals for profit.
Japanese officials have reportedly confirmed the country will propose the resumption of commercial whaling at an International Whaling Commission meeting in Brazil in September, on the condition only whales with healthy population numbers are killed.
Japan’s current so-called “research” program kills whales in Antarctic waters – including in Australian whale sanctuaries – as well as off Japan’s own coast in the North Pacific.
In a statement to Fairfax Media, the Department of the Environment and Energy said it was aware of the reports and Australia would seek to block any such bid by Japan.
“Australia will strongly oppose any proposals to overturn the moratorium [on commercial whaling] or change the rules for setting catch limits,” the department said.
Japan’s plans must formally be lodged with the commission by July 12 ahead of the biennial meeting.
Japan will reportedly also seek a change to IWC voting rules whereby only a simple majority of participating member nations, rather than three-quarters, would be required to pass proposals for commercial whaling quotas.
Norway and Iceland presently conduct commercial whaling despite the moratorium, while Russia objects to the ban.
A number of nations have historically backed Japan at the commission including Norway, Iceland and nations that receive Japanese foreign aid including those in West Africa and the Caribbean.
However it is expected that Japan’s latest reported bid would be stridently opposed by Australia, New Zealand and most nations in Europe and South and Central America.
It is not clear where Japan would seek to carry out commercial whaling, what species it would target or the catch limits it might propose.
Japan has long been frustrated by the global moratorium on commercial whaling established in 1986.
Last summer Japan’s Southern Ocean hunt killed 333 Antarctic minke whales. Some 122 were pregnant and 114 were juveniles.
Critics say the scientific program is a cover for commercial whaling, pointing to the prevalence of whale meat sold at Japanese restaurants and markets.
Japan has previously said its research program shows whale numbers of some species are no longer depleted, and females are fertile.
Humane Society International senior campaigner Alexia Wellbelove said Japan was seeking to manipulate IWC rules to secure a commercial whaling quota.
“Whilst a few countries including Japan have used various loopholes to continue commercial killing, the moratorium has helped stop expansion of this cruel, archaic and unnecessary industry,” she said.
HSI is urging anti-whaling nations to attend the meeting and block Japan’s bid.
Greens healthy oceans spokesman Peter Whish-Wilson said the federal government had “deliberately chosen to demote the status of Australia’s opposition to whaling within the Japan-Australia relationship”.
“While our opposition used to be made known in international courts and through proactive statements by the prime minister or environment minister, now whaling is only raised by Australia by diplomats and department spokespeople, often only in reaction to a Japanese escalation reported on in the media,” Senator Whish-Wilson said.
He said Japan had “moved fast to take advantage of Australia’s inaction”.
Comment has been sought from the Japanese government.