The Japanese whaling industry is no longer sustainable, and we're not just talking about the environment. The Japanese government subsidizes whaling operations, which are unable to turn a profit thanks to declining demand for whale meat. The question is, with that decline in demand mixed with a malaise-ridden economy, how much longer will those subsidies last?
It's been known for awhile that Japan no longer cares about whale meat. Older generations still hold a bit of nostalgia for whale, but changing tastes have kept many Japanese from eating it very often, if they even eat it at all. Younger folks weren't raised with whale meat as a regular dish, and without any connection to it, not many really care to much to try it. But as an astute commenter noted the last time I discussed that decline in interest, whale meat demand has been low in Japan for awhile, and that hasn't stopped the industry.
Via the IFAW report
But according to a report from the IFAW, the government subsidies propping up the whaling industry are proving costly. The report states that the whale industry loses between $10 and $20 million per year, hampered by the huge quantities of whale meat that now goes unsold each year. In 2011-2012, around 75 percent of whale meat harvested went unsold, despite the government trying to auction it off at low prices. Japan now has a stockpile of more than 5,000 tons of whale meat in cold storage.
Via the IFAW report
Now, the IFAW is strongly anti-whaling, and thus isn't a neutral party. But its data comes straight from the source: financial documents from the Institution of Cetacean Research (ICR), the agency that controls Japan's whaling industry. (Remember, Japan still skirts the 1986 international ban on whaling by saying specimens are being harvested for scientific research.) So the official word is that the industry isn't financially viable, and hasn't been for some time.
Does that even mean anything? Well, 10 or 20 million dollars isn't a huge sum when we're talking government expenditures, and with pro-whaling folks being very vocal about cultural heritage and whatnot, it's not hard to understand why the industry has been propped up for as long as it has been. But the ICR's poor fiscal outlook only weakens its position.
In other words, how much longer can politicians defend a program that's unpopular with environmentalists and fiscal hawks alike? It's true that Japan's whaling industry has been resilient in the face of poor financials and low demand for awhile now, but it's looking more and more like a domestic push against the industry could have a serious effect. Japanese whaling isn't going to stop just yet, but it's losing its strength.
Top image via The Times UK