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Japan whalers blame lower catch on Sea Shepherd harassment

Illegal trade in whale meat points to Japan: DNA study
Paris (AFP) April 14, 2010 - Whale meat sold secretly at a sushi restaurant in Los Angeles and another in Seoul can be linked to Japanese whaling, a trade that would breach global rules on protected species, scientists said Wednesday. Japan carries out whaling under what it says is a programme of scientific research, although it does not hide the fact that the meat is later sold in Japanese shops and restaurants. But trading this meat is not allowed with countries that have signed provisions protecting whales under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). The allegation is made in a genetic study published in Biology Letters, a peer-reviewed journal by the Royal Society, Britain's academy of sciences. Its authors include activists who went undercover last year to acquire whale meat at a restaurant in Los Angeles called The Hump and another, unnamed, restaurant in the South Korean capital. Caught in a massive media glare and investigation by the local authorities, The Hump has since closed down. Its owners face up to a year in prison and a 200,000-dollar fine, and its chef a fine of up to 100,000 dollars.

The new study confirmed that strips of raw meat purchased at The Hump had identical DNA sequences to sei whale meat previously bought in Japan in 2007 and 2008. "Since the international moratorium on commercial (whale) hunting (in 1986), there has been no other known source of sei whales available commercially other than in Japan," said lead author Scott Baker, a professor and associate director of the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State University. Thirteen whale products were also purchased on two occasions in June and September 2009 at the Seoul restaurant, said the paper. Four came from an Antarctic minke whale, four from a sei whale, three from a North Pacific minke, one from a fin whale and one was from a Risso's dolphin. The DNA profile of the fin whale meat genetically matched meat that had been bought in Japanese markets in 2007. "Since the international moratorium, it has been assumed that there is no international trade in whale products," Baker said in a press release. "But when products from the same whale are sold in Japan in 2007 and Korea in 2009, it suggests that international trade, though illegal, is still an issue. "Likewise, the Antarctic minke whale is not found in Korean waters, but it is hunted by Japan's controversial scientific whaling programme in the Antarctic. How did it show up in a restaurant in Seoul?"

In addition to marine biologists, the study's authors include Louie Psihoyos, director of the Oscar-nominated documentary movie "The Cove," portraying the annual killing of dolphins in a Japanese bay. Baker said he had filed a request to the Japanese government for access to a DNA register of caught whales in order to help genetic tracking of illegally-traded whale meat. Under CITES, whales are listed on Appendix 1, which means they cannot be traded internationally for commercial purposes. Japan, Iceland and Norway maintain "reservations" on the trading of some whales under Annex 1. However, these exceptions do not allow trading with countries that do not hold CITES "reservations," which include South Korea and the US. Japan's Fisheries Agency announced on Monday it had killed 507 whales in its latest annual hunt in Antarctica, compared with 680 last year and a target of 850. It blamed the fall on clashes at sea with a militant environmental group, Sea Shepherd.
by Staff Writers
Tokyo (AFP) April 12, 2010
The last ship of Japan's Antarctic whaling fleet sailed home Monday with the lowest catch in years, a shortfall whalers blamed on high-seas clashes with the militant environmental group Sea Shepherd.

The mother ship the Nisshin Maru sailed into Tokyo harbour, the last of the five harpoon ships to come home after they set sail in November, its hull splattered with blood-red paint thrown by the protesters.

The fleet's catch of 507 whales was down sharply on last year's cull of 680 and below the target of about 850, said Japan's Fisheries Agency, which blamed a total of 31 days of harassment by the Sea Shepherd group.

It was the smallest catch on record except for the 2006-07 expedition when the fleet caught only 505 whales after a fire aboard a ship hampered whaling operations.

This season's confrontations in icy Antarctic waters saw the sinking of a Sea Shepherd vessel and the arrest of one of its activists, a New Zealander who faces trial in Japan for assault, trespass and three other charges.

Whalers and their opponents also blasted each other with water cannons, while activists hurled rancid butter stink bombs, and the whalers targeted the environmentalists with a sonic crowd control device.

"I am furious," said the whaling fleet's leader Shigetoshi Nishiwaki.

He charged that the activists "say they want to protect the ocean, but they don't care about leaking oil or leaving pieces of a broken ship behind", a reference to the group's sunken powerboat the Ady Gil.

Commercial whaling has been banned worldwide since 1986 but Japan justifies its annual hunts as lethal "scientific research", while not hiding the fact that the meat is later sold in shops and restaurants.

Tensions have risen between whaling nations, also including Iceland and Norway, and anti-whaling nations such as Australia, which has threatened to take Japan to the International Court of Justice over the issue.

The International Whaling Commission, which meets in June in Morocco, is considering a plan to allow whaling nations to hunt the ocean giants openly if they agree to reduce their catch "significantly" over 10 years.

However, so far Japan, Australia and other key nations have rejected the plan, while New Zealand has voiced support for the compromise.

In Japan, meanwhile, two cases involving anti-whaling activists are now moving though the criminal justice system.

Sea Shepherd's Peter Bethune was indicted on April 2 for trespass, injuring a person, carrying a weapon, vandalism and obstructing commercial activities -- charges that could see him jailed for up to 15 years.

Bethune, 45, was the captain of the Sea Shepherd's Ady Gil, a futuristic powerboat that sank after it was sliced in two in a collision with the whaling fleet's security ship Shonan Maru II in early January.

On February 15, Bethune scaled the the Shonan Maru II from a jet ski before dawn with the stated intent of making a citizen's arrest of its captain Hiroyuki Komiya for the attempted murder of his six crew.

Bethune had also planned to present the captain with a bill for the Ady Gil, a carbon-and-Kevlar trimaran which broke the round-the-world record for a powerboat in 2008 under its former name Earthrace.

Instead he was detained, taken to Japan and formally arrested.

Prosecutors also allege he earlier caused a chemical burn on a whaler's face by hurling a bottle of rancid butter, or butyric acid, which smashed on the Shonan Maru II.

In another case involving anti-whaling activists, two Japanese members of Greenpeace face theft and trespass charges which stem from their investigation of alleged embezzlement in the state-subsidised industry.

The "Tokyo Two", as the environmental group calls its activists Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki, face up to 10 years in prison if convicted in the trial, with a verdict expected some time in June.

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Whaling compromise under attack
Washington (AFP) April 8, 2010
A fragile plan to resolve the global feud on whaling is coming under attack from both sides, with Australia seeking more concessions from whalers and Japan vowing never to end its hunt completely. Key nations in the whaling debate submitted comments to the International Whaling Commission (IWC) as it fleshes out a compromise to be submitted before the body's annual meeting in June in Morocco ... read more

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