Japan's Whaling Brings Down U.S. Sanctions

By Cat Lazaroff

WASHINGTON, DC, September 13, 2000 (ENS) - Charging that Japan has violated international whaling rules by expanding its whale hunt this year, the United States is barring Japan from fishing in American waters. President Bill Clinton said today he is also studying potential economic and trade sanctions against Japan.

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Two minke whales are flensed aboard the Japanese factory ship Misshin Maru during a Japanese hunt in the Southern Ocean Sanctuary. 1992-93 whaling season (Photo courtesy International Fund for Animal Welfare)
Clinton ordered that Japan be denied access to U.S. fishing allotments after Commerce Secretary Norman Mineta certified today that Japan is undermining international efforts to protect whales.

"Strong international cooperation has allowed the recovery of many whale species once pushed to the brink of extinction," said Clinton. "We must work to ensure that these protections are upheld. I hope that the steps we take today will encourage Japan to reverse its actions and respect the strong international consensus that has helped bring back some of Earth's most majestic creatures."

Commercial whaling has been banned since 1986 by the International Whaling Commission (IWC). Japan justifies its whaling activities through a provision in the IWC regulations that allows "scientific whaling" - the killing of whales for scientific research.

Japan takes more than 500 minke whales each year in international waters of the Southern Ocean and the North Pacific, as well as thousands of small whales and dolphins in its own coastal waters. This year, Japan announced it would begin targeting larger species including sperm and Bryde's whales in its annual hunts.

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Bryde's whales, also called tropical whales and in Japan "iwashi kujira," grow to a length of 14 metres (46 feet) and can live up to 70 years (Photo by Wayne Hoggard courtesy U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service)
On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright met in New York with Japan Foreign Minister Yohei Kono in an unsuccessful last ditch effort to persuade Japan to suspend its whaling program and forestall U.S. sanctions.

Today, the Department of Commerce took the step that allows President Clinton to legally sanction Japan for its actions. By certifying that Japanís fishing operations are reducing the effectiveness of international conservation efforts, the agency invokes a U.S. law - the Pelly Amendment to the Fishermen's Protective Act of 1967 - authorizing the President to ban imports from Japan.

Clinton now has 60 days to notify Congress of any additional economic sanctions he chooses to authorize, or to explain why he decides not to take additional action.

There is currently no foreign fishing in U.S. waters, but new allotments for foreign fishing in these waters are expected to be approved later this year for the first time in more than a decade.

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Sperm whales (Photo courtesy International Fund for Animal Welfare)
Unless Japan changes its whaling program, it will be barred from consideration for access to U.S. waters, Clinton said.

Over the next 60 days, the U.S. Trade Representative and the Departments of Treasury, Commerce, State and Interior will consider additional sanctions, including such steps as ensuring that items imported into the United States do not include any whale byproducts.

Today's announcement is part of a set of steps the Clinton administration has taken since July when Japan broadened its whaling program to include Byrde's whales and sperm whales, both of which are protected under U.S. law. In August, the U.S. joined 14 other countries in a diplomatic protest to the Japanese.

The United States has canceled its participation in two regional environmental meetings in Japan, canceled its annual fisheries meeting with Japan, and is working with other countries to oppose Japan's bid to host a meeting of the International Whaling Commission in January 2001.

Japan's expanded whaling program has drawn strong protests from the scientific community and world leaders. At its annual meeting, the International Whaling Commission also passed a resolution in early July calling on Japan to halt its expanded whaling program.

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The Japanese whaling ship Kyo Maru No. 1 departs Shimonoseki, Japan (Photo courtesy IFAW)
"The President should be congratulated for this step, and we strongly urge the administration to follow it with strong and meaningful economic sanctions against Japan," said Fred O'Regan, president of the International Fund for Animal Welfare. "We should respond to Japan's flagrant disregard for international agreements protecting whales by banning imports of key Japanese products. Americans don't want to wear Japanese pearls at a time when Japanese whaling fleets are returning to port having slaughtered dozens of these magnificent creature."

"Unfortunately, recent history shows that talk is cheap when it comes to dealing with Japanese whaling," OíRegan continued. "To date, the Japanese have simply plugged their ears and kept killing endangered whales. Senior decision makers in Tokyo are clearly testing international resolve on this issue, and it is vital that the U.S. take further steps, including economic sanctions if their intransigence continues."

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) also praised Clintonís actions.

"Japan's contempt for world opinion on whaling is finally being called to account," said WWF vice president Richard Mott. "It is essential that the President follow through with economic sanctions sufficient to make Japan rescind its reckless bid to revive large scale commercial whaling."

"This is about sushi, not science," Mott said. "The so called research that Japan claims to be conducting can all be accomplished through other non-lethal means."