Japan takes on hard line on whale hunt

8th Aug 2002 Story: www.boston.com

Japan's top whaling official indicated yesterday that Tokyo would block US attempts to reinstate a five-year whale-hunting season for Alaskan Eskimos.

The issue has been a flashpoint between the two countries since Japan led a drive, at a May meeting of the International Whaling Commission, to ban the hunting of bowhead whales by Eskimo subsistence hunters.

''Our target is not the Alaskans; it is the double standard of the United States,'' chief Japanese whale negotiator Masayuki Komatsu told the Associated Press yesterday. ''There are still many points that must be cleared up.''

The comments appeared to step back from an earlier softening on the issue by the minister of agriculture and fisheries, Tsutomu Takebe. While Komatsu reiterated Takebe's stance that Japan supports Eskimo whaling in principle, he said Tokyo demands that Japan's hunt quota be reviewed once a year instead of once every five years.

He said that would help preserve whale populations and make sure they are not overhunted.

The decision in May to block Eskimo hunting was widely seen as payback for US opposition to Japanese-led efforts to lift a 1986 ban on commercial whaling. It was the first time since the 1970s that aboriginal hunting quotas had been denied. Eskimos had been allowed to take 55 bowhead whales over five-year periods.

The United States protested the decision, and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell told Governor Tony Knowles of Alaska he would try to get the decision reversed.

The United States could call for another vote on the issue as early as October, when the IWC is scheduled to meet. But Komatsu indicated Japan would try to block it and push for a more limited hunt.

''They must come up with a better proposal,'' Komatsu said.

Japan is one of the world's largest consumers of whale meat and, despite a global ban on commercial whaling, kills hundreds of the mammals each year as part of its so-called research program.

The International Whaling Commission allows Japan a limited catch for scientific research. Critics of the program, including the governments of the United States, say the research hunt is merely a front for commercial whaling.

This story ran on page A24 of the Boston Globe on 8/8/2002.

© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.