Campaigns to harass Japan's whaling fleet only harden domestic opinion against environmentalists, a Japanese professor says. Most Japanese shun whale as food and many are sympathetic to the arguments of conservationists seeking to protect the huge sea mammals, but do not want to feel bullied, said Atsushi Ishii, a Tokyo University professor and author of "Anatomy of the Whaling Debate."
"The majority of Japanese are anti-antiwhaling," Ishii told AFP. "They don't want whale meat, but they don't want the anti-whaling organizations to tell them what to do."
Much of that ire is directed at the U.S.-based Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, headed by Paul Watson.
In February, Japan recalled its Antarctic whaling fleet a month ahead of schedule with only one fifth of its planned catch, citing interference and harassment from ships operated by Sea Shepherd. Watson has already said he plans to resume his campaign and predicted Japan will abandon hunting in Antarctica, one of two whale preserves in the world.
But even for Japanese opposed to large-scale whaling, Ishii said, "the anti-whaling movement has to stop. The movement is actually increasing support (in Japan) for scientific whaling."
Despite a moratorium that went into effect in 1986, Japan conducts whale hunting under the guise of "scientific research," setting self-determined quotas averaging about 1,000 whales each year over the last five years.
This practice is permissible within the rules of the IWC. But other nations and environmental groups fiercely condemn it, seeing it as a cover for commercial operations.
Ishii agreed that the annual hunt was of scant scientific value, and said that the practice exists mainly to justify an annual subsidy of about 50 million yen to the industry.
Even if Sea Shepherd succeeds in chasing Japanese whalers from Antarctica this year, it may not be the clear-cut victory that Watson describes.
"It depends on how you define victory," said Ishii. "Whale meat has not been selling well in Japan for years. The reality is that the whaling industry doesn't want more meat."
Frozen stocks of whale meat stand at more than 6,000 tons, enough to keep the country in supply at current consumption rates for 18 months, he said.
"So the Sea Shepherd attacks actually work in favor of the (government's) Fisheries Agency and the whaling industry, providing a reason to pull back from the Antarctic without having fulfilled its official targets."
Ishii thinks that the Japanese government is, in fact, trying to find a way to curtail whaling operations in Antarctic waters, but politically does not want to be seen as caving in to foreign pressure.
"If we pull out of Antarctica, it would be perceived as a total loss against the anti-whaling organizations. Politicians are not eager to accept that," he said.
Watson said he doubted that his actions were boosting consumption of whale meat in Japan, but added that he was, in any case, indifferent to Japanese public opinion.
"I don't think that's true but I don't really care. My objective is to stop their illegal activities and we are succeeding in doing that," he said. "We are not going to convince the people of Japan to stop killing whales but we can force them by bankrupting them (the whalers). I'm not interested in educating the Japanese people."
Ishii said that the only long-term compromise possible at the deeply riven whaling body would be for Japan to accept the ban on Antarctic whaling in return for a lifting of the moratorium for limited hunting in national coastal waters.© 2011 Agence France-Presse