Friday, January 13, 2012

Japanese incursion

Two days ago a Japanese vessel, the Yushin Maru No. 3, associated with the whaling fleet in the Southern Ocean sailed 8 nautical miles into Australia's Territorial Waters in pursuit of a Sea Shepherd vessel. The Yushin Maru No. 3 is a harpoon ship used for whale catching and is unwelcome in Australian Territorial Waters where whaling is illegal. Despite Australian Government protests to Japan the vessel stayed within Australian waters for more than 24 hours. Moreover, it stayed within Australian waters for several hours after it was said to be leaving. It continues the pugnacious approach that Japan has adopted in its dispute with Australia over its whaling activities in the Southern Ocean. 

The Yushin Maru No. 2, a harpoon vessel similar to the Yushin Maru No. 3

Although the vessel is now within Australian's Exclusive Economic Zone there is apparently little legal recourse for Australia as long as the vessel does not hunt whales. Australia has  claimed its Exclusive Economic Zone as a whale sanctuary. Under international law Australia should have the legal right to regulate fishing, including whaling, within this zone. But, Japan continues to hunt whales within the sanctuary under the guise of scientific research*. Finally, after much dithering by both major political parties, Australia launched legal proceedings against Japan over the whaling in the International Court of Justice. Australia submitted its case in May 2011 and Japan is due to make its submission in March this year.

Map of Antarctic territorial claims. Australia claims two territories (orange) which sandwich the French claim (dark blue). Norway claims the next largest territory (purple). New Zealand (green) also claims territory. The UK (red), Chile (yellow) and Argentina (light blue) have overlapping claims.
Any reduction in the area that Japanese can catch whales in as a result of Australia's action in the International Court for Justice is, unfortunately, unlikely to have a great effect on the supply of whale meat in Japan. Australia claims and exclusive economic zone in the waters off its Antarctic territory, but Japan and most of the rest of the world does not recognise this claim. Indeed, only four countries who also claim large exclusive economic zones in the Antarctic recognise Australia's claim. Japan is therefore likely to be able to continue whaling in these areas. Moreover, Iceland now exports whale meat to Japan, reportedly earning the country $US 17 million in the last four years. Like Japan, Iceland's whale hunt is conducted under the guise of scientific research. I guess they have a lot of collaborators in Japan...

The Japanese and Icelandic whale research programmes produce few, if any, valuable data on whales. Moreover, non-lethal research can be used to produce much of the same information. Scientific reviews of the research programmes conducted by the International Whaling Commission have found that experimental designs are shoddy, and that the information is either not required for management or obtainable by non-lethal means. That has not stopped either of the countries from whaling. Indeed, Japan has tried to use their data to argue that whale numbers are growing and need to be culled to preserve commercially important fish species. Of greater threat to Japan's commercially important fish stocks is certainly Japan's fishing fleets. I'll write more on that sometime.


*As Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman joke in Good Omens, the research is primarily concerned with determining how many whales can be caught during the whaling season.

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