The effect of a permanent ban on whaling to the Japanese economy must be explored from many angles. Japan ended its commercial whaling operations in 1987. Since then, all whaling done in Japan is under the guide of scientific research. According to Japan, the purpose of their research whaling is to determine if there are sufficient quantities of whales to support a commercial whaling industry and to understand the dynamics that govern whale populations.
Very little information is available about the economic impact that whaling, or a permanent ban on whaling, would have on the Japanese economy. Factors that would need to be considered include employment issues, food supply, and the effect on lower level fish populations.
The effects of a permanent ban on whaling to the Japanese economy are extremely difficult to quantify. Sea Shepherd is an anti-whaling organization that appears to have some numbers regarding the effect of whaling on the Japanese economy, though they do not disclose their source on their organization website. According to SeaShepherd.org, “Japan’s economy, the world’s second biggest, has an annual output of 515 trillion yen or $8.2 trillion. So whaling accounts for 0.0014 per cent of the national economy.” This does not sound like a large percentage; however, Sea Shepherd is an organization with an agenda so it is difficult to ascertain how accurate their statements on this issue are.
Reports vary on how widely consumed whale meat is among those who live in Japan. Recently, a chef in the United States found himself in serious trouble after serving whale meat in his restaurant. Whale meat is not food for the common man in Japan, but it is not a high-priced delicacy either. Some have compared it to the consumption of horse meat – loved by some, reviled by others, but not a major dietary addition for the majority of Japan’s residents. In 2008, Time Magazine reported that “the average Japanese eats a little more than an ounce of whale meat per year.”
While the Japanese government has previously stated their desire to resume a sustainable whaling operation so that they might preserve existing fish populations lower on the food chain and acquire whale meat for consumption, many members of the international community oppose it. In the previously mentioned Time Magazine article, the writer explored the Japanese argument that whaling is needed to maintain appropriate levels of smaller fish populations. It seems though, that the eco-relationship along the food chain is much more complicated than Japanese whaling proponents let on. A researcher at Arizona State found that “if you remove whales, it has a negligible impact on the biomass that is commercially available for fishing.”
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In the end, Japan must figure out how to balance their desire for scientific research, whale meat for consumption, the keeping of their cultural traditions, the sustainability of the whale population, and the need to maintain smaller fish levels. Until Japan can find the magic middle of all of these issues, this will continue to be an issue they need to deal with.