Japan finds whaling moratorium unappetizing
TOKYO, Japan (CNN) -- The international moratorium on commercial whaling was imposed 15 years ago, but Japan wants to end the ban, because many Japanese have a taste for whale.
On the nation's Pacific coast, local economies depend on the sea. And it's not always fish -- whale meat is still harvested and sold in Japanese markets.
Despite the restriction on whaling, Japan claims the right to kill whales for scientific research. The government covers much of the cost by selling the meat to whale meat processors.
The Gaibo Hogei Corporation, for example, produces a kind of teriyaki jerky from whale. Owner Yosinori Shoji believes international pressure to continue the moratorium is unreasonable. His ancestors have been hunting and eating whales for generations and he will pass the tradition to his children, he said.
Other customers include restaurants that specialize in whale dishes. The cuisine is not widespread, but Japanese consider it a part of their culture and feel the rest of the world should respect that.
"I've grown up eating whale meat," said Takashi Sato, owner of a whale-meat specialty tavern named Taru-Ichi. "And when commercial whaling starts up again, more Japanese will eat it."
But the resumption of commercial whaling would threaten endangered whales, according to critics.
Using advanced genetic analysis of whale meat from Japanese markets, researchers have shown that Japan's restricted scientific whaling, limited to three relatively abundant species, actually covers the sale of other whale meat from unknown, illegal sources.
"Our results suggested in fact a number of protected species -- Humpback, the Asian North Pacific Gray Whale, Sei whales, Bryde's whales and Fin whales -- are sold routinely in the market," said C. Scott Baker of the University of Aukland.
For those opposed to Japan's policy, the genetic surveys are evidence that scientific whaling creates a market for the illegal killing of whales, including endangered species.
But the small amount of whale meat reaching consumers from unknown sources might come from whales harvested before the moratorium went into effect, or from whales accidentally caught in fishing nets, Japanese authorities argued.
Other research indicates many whale products are contaminated with dangerous levels of toxins such as mercury and PCBs.
But that won't change the official position of Japan that eating whale is very healthy and very Japanese, and that commercial whaling should resume.
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