Japan will withdraw from the International Whaling Commission and resume commercial whaling, the country's government announced Wednesday, in a move that has outraged environmentalists.
From July 2019, whalers will be permitted to hunt in the waters off Japan and in the country's exclusive economic zone, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said in a statement.
Suga described the IWC as a group dedicated to opposing whaling, rather than devoted to sustainability.
"Although scientific evidence has confirmed that certain whale species/stocks of whales are abundant," Suga said, according to a translation from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, "those [IWC] member states that focus exclusively on the protection of whales, while ignoring the other stated objective of the [International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling], refused to agree to take any tangible steps towards reaching a common position that would ensure the sustainable management of whale resources."
He said Japan would remain an observer nation in the IWC.
"This is terrible news!" Greenpeace tweeted last week when reports first emerged that Tokyo was considering resuming commercial whaling. "We must protect these majestic creatures and their ocean home."
For years, Japan has conducted so-called scientific whaling in the Southern (Antarctic) Ocean in a bid to convince the IWC it could sustainably resume commercial hunting. Although the whaling was conducted under the guise of research, the meat often ended up for sale in Japanese markets.
As a consequence of Wednesday's decision, that scientific whaling will end because the international whaling convention requires countries that do so join the IWC, according to the ABC.
Darren Kindleysides, CEO of the Australian Marine Conservation Society, said in a statement on Wednesday that the news was "bittersweet."
"If Japan leaving the IWC spells the end of their Southern Ocean whaling that would be a win for our whales. Australians have been fighting for decades to get the whalers out of the Antarctic," he said. "However, it would be a bittersweet victory if it comes with unchecked commercial whaling by Japan in their own waters, and their leaving could damage the future of the IWC itself."
Japan had threatened to quit the IWC in September when member nations voted against the country's proposal to approve commercial whaling. Australia and other anti-whaling nations had vehemently opposed the move.
"With the populations of whales back in the days of industrial whaling, the major single threat they faced was whaling," Australian IWC Commissioner Nick Gales told the ABC in September. "Today, with climate change, fisheries interactions and bycatch noise in the ocean, there are many other threats. To add commercial whaling to that now, at a time when populations are really only starting to recover, in Australia's view would be a really unwise step."
In 2014, Australia took Japan to the United Nations' international court of justice, which ruled the country's research whaling in the Southern Ocean was not for scientific purposes. However, the country later resumed the practice under a modified program.
Japan now joins Iceland and Norway in openly conducting commercial whaling.
Tokyo says eating whale meat is an important part of Japanese culture, but according to the Asahi newspaper, whale accounts for roughly 0.1% of all meat consumed in the country.