Japan has sparked international criticism by announcing it will resume commercial whaling in July, after decades of trying to persuade governing body the International Whaling Commission (IWC) to allow it to do so.
The government – which usually stresses multilateralism in diplomacy – said on Tuesday it would pull out of the commission so it could restart the controversial practice.
The decision has been met with condemnation from some corners of the international community, with Australia and New Zealand both issuing statements opposing the measure.
Japanese chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga, said the commercial whaling will be limited to Japan’s own territorial waters and its exclusive economic zone, who made the announcement on Tuesday.
Suga said Japan would “cease the take of whales in the Antarctic Ocean or the Southern Hemisphere,” and that it would be conducted “in accordance with international law”.
Japan's whaling in the Southern Ocean has long been a source of disagreement between Australian and Japanese governments.
He added Japan could comply with “catch limits calculated in accordance with the method adopted by the IWC to avoid negative impact on cetacean resources”.
The IWC rejected Japan’s most recent bid to resume commercial whaling at a September meeting. Suga said this showed it was impossible to reconcile the views of whaling advocates and anti-whaling members.
“The declaration today is out of step with the international community, let alone the protection needed to safeguard the future of our oceans and these majestic creatures,” international conservation group Greenpeace said.
“As the chair of the G20 in 2019, the Japanese government needs to recommit to the IWC and prioritise new measures for marine conservation.”
New Zealand foreign minister Winston Peters said he was disappointed with the decision, but welcomed the measure to halt whaling in the Southern Ocean.
“Whaling is an outdated and unnecessary practice. We continue to hope Japan eventually reconsiders its position and will cease all whaling in order to advance the protection of the ocean’s ecosystems,” he said.
Japanese newspaper Asahi said whale consumption accounted for just 0.1 per cent of all Japanese meat consumption.
An international moratorium on whaling has been in place since 1986, a measure which has since been consistently broken by Japan.