Announced today by ABC in Australia and Asahi News in Japan, the Japanese government is to spend US$30 million to subsidize their ailing whaling fleet in sending them to Antarctica.  The announcement was made from the Prime Minister, who stated that Japan would not be bowing to the pressure from conservation groups.

It was reported several months ago that the ICR was on the brink if bankruptcy, due to dropping demand for whale meat.  Last year, consumption of whale product dropped some 50%, and this year, the slide has continued. This is despite that fact that the ICR has conducted several high profile promotional campaigns within Japan, and that they have steadily reduced the per kilogram price in an effort to stimulate demand.  Japanese consumers it seems, are turning away from whale meat, and the ICR has struggled to stem the flow of red ink from their balance sheet.

In one last effort, the ICR asked the government for a $40m bailout to allow them to survive. Many in Japan speculated that the government, under enormous pressure to rebuild their economy after the combined effects of the Earthquake and Tsunami, would let the whaling company go under.

Today’s announcement is an emphatic sign that Japan intends to continue to sponsor and support their contentious research whaling program despite its unpopularity with other countries.  Japan takes a very long term view on many issues, and their fisheries and whaling is no exception. It is possible that Japan sees merit in ensuring the survival of their whaling business as a long term strategy, despite it upsetting many of their trading partners in the short term.

Negativity towards Japan has grown in recent times with their refusal to halt the Antarctic research whaling program. This was tempered somewhat after the earthquake, with many countries sympathetic to Japan and their challenge in rebuilding their ravaged economy.  Japan willingly accepted generous overseas donations to help them rebuild, and yet now they spend tens of millions of dollars subsidizing a dying industry that infuriates many countries, including New Zealand, Australia and the US.

No mention is made of how Japan will get around the new IMO MARPOL regulations which require the vessels to be double skinned in Antarctica.  None of the whaling fleet, nor any of the protest fleet for that matter, can legally enter Antarctic waters.  With no enforcement of maritime law evident in Antarctica however, it seems unlikely anything meaningful will be done.  Antarctica in recent times has descended into the wild west in terms of maritime law enforcement.

An interesting sub plot in this, Koji Sekimizu of Japan is the new chief of the IMO, and it would set a double standard if he were to tolerate transgressions in IMO law by Japanese vessels in Antarctica, and yet police the laws elsewhere.