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A subsidised industry

The Japanese Government issues research whaling permits to the Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR) which, in turn, contracts a single whaling company, Kyodo Senpaku, to provide the vessels and crew. The ICR releases the products from the hunts twice a year to Kyodo Senpaku to sell at a price fixed by the ICR and Ministry of Fisheries to wholesalers, processors and local authorities. The primary purpose of the sale is to cover the costs of whaling and research, and although recent market conditions are taken into account, in recent years ICR has set prices rather high relative to demand.

Wholesalers and retailers, however, are subject to market forces and their prices reflect current market conditions. In recent years margins have been squeezed and there have been reports of unsold meat and retailers cutting prices to ’get it off their shelves’. Wholesalers and retailers may be willing to support losses in the short run, in order to maintain their rights to purchase and sell whaling by-products in future years, but in the long run these losses are not sustainable.

Furthermore actual sales have been less than planned sales in recent years. For example, in 2006/7 planned sales were US$ 58.0 million, while actual sales were US$ 46.5 million. In 2007/8 planned sales were US$64.6 million and actual sales were US$48.8 million. The report showed that wholesale prices of whale meat per kg in Japan have been falling since 1994, starting at just over $30/kg in 1994, and declining to $16.40 in 2006.

Even though the ICR sets prices high relative to demand, they are not high enough to cover all costs. High subsidies are required to maintain Japan’s “scientific whaling” operations, and these subsidies have increased in recent years as the hunts have expanded. There are three main sources of subsidy: the National Subsidy for the Nishin Maru research whaling programme (JARPA) in Antarctica, a commissioning fee for the coastal research whaling fleet off Japan, and a recently added budget supplement to cover costs involved in dealing with recent protest activities surrounding the JARPA hunt.

In 2009, WDCS, in conjunction with WWF commissioned a study of the economics of the Japanese whaling industry. The report notes similar use of taxpayer funds by Japan. For example, during the 2008-09 season, the Japanese whaling industry, needed US$12 million in taxpayer money just to break even. Overall, Japanese subsidies for whaling amount to US$164 million since 1988.

So why does Japan whale? The expansion of Japan’s hunts is clearly not motivated by a growing market for the meat. Japan currently sells around 7,500 tons of edible whale meat annually from ‘scientific’ hunts, small whale and dolphin hunts and ‘bycatch’. Demand continues to fall and consumption of whale

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