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Thursday, 28 February, 2002, 19:05 GMT
Japan plans to expand whaling
Whaling ship
Japan insists the whaling is for research purposes
Japan has announced plans to expand its whaling programme to include a new species of endangered whale.

The Japanese Fisheries Agency aims to add sei whales to a list of species it hunts for scientific research, a government official said on Thursday.

The move comes despite international criticism of the country's whaling programme, and vehement opposition from the global environment network WWF.

Proposed quota
150 minke whales
50 sei whales
50 Bryde's whales
10 sperm whales
Annual catch: 260
Source: Japanese Fisheries Agency
Starting this year, the proposals will allow Japanese whalers in the North Pacific to catch 50 sei whales annually, along with the minke, Bryde's and sperm whales they already hunt.

The quota of minke whales will also be increased under the new plans - from 100 to 150 a year.

All four species are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

Research reasons

The proposals, submitted by the Japanese Fisheries Agency to the International Whaling Commission (IWC), cite the need for expanded research into the feeding habits of whales.

"They are eating large amounts of fish at a time when Japan's haul of fish has been decreasing," said Masayuki Komatsu, a spokesman for the agency.

Japanese diner
Whale meat is seen as a delicacy in Japan
"Fish populations are falling and there is a need to control whales," he said, claiming that productivity in Japan's fisheries has halved to six million tonnes in the past two decades.

Dr Sejii Ohsumi, from the Institute of Cetacean Research in Tokyo, also defended the new proposals.

"Japan's plan to increase its whale research program is based on urgent scientific need to collect data on the competition between whales and fisheries," said Dr. Ohsumi.

But environmental groups such as the WWF disagree, claiming that sei whales are endangered and the species may not survive if the plans go ahead.

While government research data states that 28,000 sei whales live in the North Pacific, the WWF estimates that the figure is nearer 9,000.

A final decision on whether the sei will be added into Japan's whaling programme will be made after the International Whaling Commission's annual meeting, due to be held in Japan in May.

International opposition

Japan has attracted international criticism for continuing to carry out what it calls research whaling - although it gave up commercial whaling following an international moratorium in 1986.

It is vital that the IWC does not cave in to commercial whaling thinly disguised as science

Dr Susan Lieberman, WWF
But environmental groups have disputed that the whaling is conducted solely for research purposes.

They claim that much of the meat ends up to Japan's burgeoning restaurant industry.

"It is vital that the IWC does not cave in to commercial whaling thinly disguised as science," said Dr Susan Lieberman, Director of WWF's Species Programme.

Whale meat is now considered a gourmet food in Japan, after substantial price increases in recent years.

See also:

23 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
Japan battles to save beached whales
14 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
Greenpeace disrupts Japan whalers
04 Oct 01 | Sci/Tech
Whaling 'safe for a century'
06 Nov 01 | Asia-Pacific
Japanese whalers prepare for hunt
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