Japan Whaling

A whaling boat leaves a port in Kushiro, Hokkaido, northern Japan Monday, July 1, 2019. Japan is resuming commercial whaling for the first time in 31 years, a long-cherished goal seen as a largely lost cause. (Masanori Takei/Kyodo News via AP)

TOKYO (AP) — Japanese whalers returned to port Monday with their first catch after resuming commercial whaling for the first time in 31 years, achieving the long-cherished goal of traditionalists that is seen as largely a lost cause amid slowing demand for the meat and changing views on conservation.

A fleet of five boats left the northern Japanese port of Kushiro earlier Monday and brought back two minke whales. A crane lifted them and slowly placed them on the back of a truck to be taken to a portside factory for processing. Workers in blue plastic overalls poured sake from paper cups onto the first whale to express thanks and celebrate the first catch.

It was the first commercial hunt since 1988, when Japan switched to what it called research whaling after commercial whaling was banned by the International Whaling Commission. Japan gave six months’ notice that it was withdrawing from the IWC, a move that took effect Sunday.

The Fisheries Agency said the hunts will stay within the country’s exclusive economic zone, and the catch quota for the rest of this year will be 227 whales, fewer than the 637 that Japan hunted in the Antarctic and the northwestern Pacific in its research program in recent years. The announcement of the quota, originally planned for late June, was delayed until Monday in an apparent move to avoid criticism during this past weekend’s Group of 20 summit in Osaka.

As the boats left port, whalers, their families and local officials in two major whaling towns, Shimonoseki in southwestern Japan and Kushiro in the north, celebrated the fresh start, hoping for their safe return and a good catch. Shimonoseki is Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s electoral constituency.

“We hope commercial whaling will be on track as soon as possible, contribute to local prosperity and carry on Japan’s rich whale culture to the next generation,” Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasutoshi Nishimura told reporters in Tokyo.

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