TOKYO — Hundreds of pro-whaling Japanese officials, lawmakers and lobby group members vowed Tuesday to continue whale hunts despite a world court ruling that ordered the country to halt its Antarctic whaling program.
Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi told the meeting that Japan must protect its whale-eating culture and secure sources of whale meat. Japan as a maritime nation "has a policy of harvesting and sustainably using the protein source from the ocean, and that is unshakable," Hayashi said.
Cutlets, sashimi, steak and other dishes made of whale meat were served at the gathering near Japan's parliament, attracting many participants.
"Whale!" they shouted together in a toast, pledging to continue their fight over the animal.
The International Court of Justice ordered Japan on March 31 to stop granting permits for its Antarctic whaling program, which allowed an annual catch of about 1,000 whales. The court rejected Japan's contention that the program was scientific, not commercial.
Japan announced it will cancel next season's Antarctic expedition after the ruling but hasn't decided whether to conduct two other programs — one along Japan's northern coast and another in the northern Pacific — both set to begin within weeks. Japan kills about 300 minke whales annually in those programs.
The court ruling technically leaves the door open for Japan to propose a redesigned scientific whaling program in the Antarctic, but any new plan would face intense scrutiny. Officials generally agree that the most likely scenario is for Japan to withdraw from the Antarctic and continue the remaining programs.
Japan's coastal whaling dates back to the 12th century, though its Antarctic expeditions began in the 1930s.
The research hunts started in 1987 following an international moratorium on commercial whaling. The whale meat is sold in Japan to help finance the program, but sales have fallen as whale meat became less popular, forcing sharp increases in government subsidies to keep the program afloat.
The Japanese fleet returned home in early April, ending the 2013-14 season with what may be its last Antarctic harvest: 251 minke whales, or just a quarter of its quota.