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Why Japan’s Whalers Are Upset About the Plan to Resume Whale Hunting

Count Japan’s own whalers among those unhappy with the government’s plan to resume commercial hunts — but not in the bountiful whaling grounds around Antarctica.

A Japanese foreign ministry official told reporters Thursday in Tokyo that whalers were also upset with the plan. The briefing came a day after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government drew international criticism with its decision to withdraw from the International Whaling Commission and resume commercial hunts in its exclusive economic zone.

The move to end “scientific” hunts in near Antarctica was opposed by the local whaling industry, the foreign ministry official said, declining to be identified according to ministry policy. The official called the decision to end hunts in the Southern Ocean — where Japanese whalers have sometimes clashed with environmental activists — a “painful” one.

New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters was among officials to object to the move Wednesday, calling whaling an “outdated and unnecessary practice.” Still, both New Zealand and Australia welcomed the end to the Southern Ocean hunting.

Japan says it kills about 600 whales a year and the industry employs fewer than 300 people. Yet the issue has an outsized presence in the national psyche, which the foreign ministry official compared to matters like gun control and abortion in the U.S. Norway and Iceland — both members of the whaling commission — also hunt commercially.

Japan plans to use a method laid out by the commission to calculate a sustainable harvest. The first hunt is set to take place in July.