The greatest threat to Japan’s whaling industry may not be the environmentalists harassing its ships or the countries demanding its abolishment, but consumers who have lost their appetite for the delicacy.
The amount of whale meat stockpiled for lack of buyers has nearly doubled over the last decade, even as anti-whaling protests helped drive catches to record lows. Meat equivalent to more than 2,300 minke whales is sitting in freezers while whalers still plan to catch another 1,300 per year.
Low demand will unlikely recover given Monday’s ruling by the International Court of Justice in The Hague that Japan should stop its research whaling in the Antarctic Ocean because it isn’t really for scientific purposes.
The ruling was a major victory for whaling opponents such as Australia, which argued that it is a cover for commercial hunts.
The stated goal of the research, which began in 1987, is to show that commercial whaling is environmentally sustainable, but a growing question is whether it is economically sustainable.
The government-subsidized whaling program is sinking deeper into debt and faces an imminent, costly renovation of its 27-year-old mother ship, the Nisshin Maru.
“A resumption of commercial whaling is not a realistic option anymore, and the goal has become a mere excuse to continue research hunts,” said Ayako Okubo, a marine science researcher at Tokai University. “The program is used for the vested interests.”