Earth Island Institute

ECO: The environmental voice at the IWC

ECO is published by Earth Island Institute’s International Marine Mammal Project at the meeting of the International Whaling Commission in Madeira, Portugal, on behalf of environmental and animal welfare organizations around the globe.

For further information, please contact: Mark J. Palmer, Associate Director, Earth Island Institute, International Marine Mammal Project.

U.S.: Japan Promised to “Dismantle Its Commercial Whaling Industry”

Volume LXI · No. 4 · Madeira, Portugal · Thursday June 25, 2009
Acrobat .pdf of issue

For more than 20 years, Japan has violated a bilateral agreement with the United States in which the Japanese government promised to halt whaling.

The bilateral agreement was negotiated in November 1984 at the request of the Japanese government when it appeared that the U.S. would impose heavy economic sanctions against Japan for its violation of the IWC’s sperm whaling ban that went into effect that year.

Under the bilateral agreement, which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled has the status of a treaty, the U.S. withheld sanctions under the Pelly Amendment to the Fishermen’s Protective Act and the Packwood-Magnuson Amendment.

In return, the Government of Japan committed to ending sperm whaling in 1986 and all commercial whaling in 1988 – two years beyond the IWC’s cessation of all commercial whaling.
When a coalition of conservation, environmental and animal welfare groups filed suit to force immediate sanctions against Japan (American Cetacean Society vs. Baldrige), the Reagan Administration, which negotiated the bilateral agreement, argued that Japan had committed to end all whaling in return for permission to fish within the U.S. 200-mile fishing limit. Japanese fishing fleets were taking about $50 million worth of fish each year in U.S. waters, primarily in the Bering Sea off Alaska.

After the environmentalists won rulings ordering the fishery sanctions in two federal courts, Japan demanded an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Reagan Administration filed an appeal, and in its brief to the Supreme Court in March 1986 told the court that Japan had agreed to “dismantle its commercial whaling industry.”

Five of the nine Supreme Court justices, believing that the bilateral agreement would bring an end to the slaughter that had driven most whale species to the brink of extinction, voted to overturn the lower court decisions.

But the government of Japan deceitfully violated the bilateral agreement by declaring that its huge commercial whaling operation would continue as “scientific research.” In the fall of 1987 Japan granted itself whaling quotas in the Southern Ocean, a practice it has continued to this day.

When the Japanese fleet began killing whales in the Antarctic in 1988, the American environmental groups re-filed the original 1984 lawsuit and demanded certification of Japan under the Pelly Amendment and the immediate banning of Japanese fishing fleets under the Packwood-Magnuson Amendment. The Reagan Administration, stabbed in the back by Japan, agreed that Japan was violating the IWC whaling bans and the bilateral agreement. Japan was certified and its fishermen blacklisted.

It is time for the U.S. Government to hold the Government of Japan to the letter and spirit of the bilateral agreement.

Echoing the famous diplomatic epithet of Napoleon Bonaparte about the English two centuries ago, one anti-whaling activist acidly observes: “Perfidious Nippon.”

– Craig Van Note