Recent Wikileaks cables have exposed classified material sent by the United States embassy in Tokyo to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).
The four documents show that Japan was willing to reduce whaling in Antarctic waters in exchange for the U.S. acting against the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS), a non-governmental organization committed to eradicating whalers, sealers and illegal fishing.
The SSCS has become increasingly influential over the last few years, mainly due to the group featuring on the hit reality T.V. show 'Whale Wars'. Activists representing the organization have frequently clashed with the Japanese whaling fleet and as a result, the fleet has been unable to reach its annual whale catching quota for numerous years.
The leaked documents were sent ahead of a crucial meeting held by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) last year, the body that is responsible for regulating international whaling.
Japan deemed it essential for the talks to be successful, as the results would be a pinnacle in their future whale quotas, which is noticeable when the cable states that: It would be easier for Japan to make progress in the IWC negotiations if the U.S. were to take action against the Sea Shepherd.
He exemplified this point by saying violent protests by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society could limit the government of Japan's flexibility in the negotiations.
In order to disband the SSCS, Japan's vice-minister for international affairs at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF), Shuji Yamada, questioned Monica Medina, Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and U.S. Commissioner to the IWC as well as a former senior officer at the Pew Environment Group and NOAA General Councillor, about withdrawing Sea Shepherd's tax exemption.
”Yamada inquired about an investigation into the tax status of the U.S.-based NGO (non-governmental organization) Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and repeated Japan's request for the U.S. to take action against the organisation, which he said created a very dangerous situation on the seas, reads one of the documents.
The DCM (Deputy Chief of Mission), replied that the U.S. places the highest priority on the safety of vessels and human life at sea, and added that if any violations of U.S. law are discovered, we will take appropriate enforcement action, it continues.
In a separate document sent a week later, it emerges that the U.S. did inquire into the SSCS's tax status, as she (Medina) said she believes the USG (U.S. government) can demonstrate the group does not deserve tax exempt status based on their aggressive and harmful actions.
Within the same cable, it becomes evident that it was in fact the U.S. that initially suggested revoking the organizations tax exemptions: He (Yamada) appreciates the U.S. government initiative to address the group's tax exempt status.
It is also believed that if the IWC meeting had gone favorably and Japan reduced its catches for scientific purposes in the Antarctic, they would also be permitted to legally catch whales around the Japanese coast.
An additional cable reads: the Governments of Japan (GOJ) and the United States would work towards reaching an understanding regarding a way forward for the International Whaling Commission that would include a meaningful reduction in Japan's current whaling levels and U.S. support for international approval of sustainable small-type coastal whaling activities off the coast of Japan.
In addition, the GOJ would no longer hunt fin or humpback whales in the Southern Ocean, and the United States would uphold domestic and international laws to ensure safety at sea.
However, negotiations at the IWC meeting in June 2010 deteriorated after the European Union, Australia and South American countries rejected the proposals.
In response to the classified material, Captain Paul Watson, head of the SSCS and self proclaimed founding member of Greenpeace International, released a statement saying that: The U.S. government may have very well looked into Sea Shepherd's activities and if they did so, then they obviously did not find any irregularities or unlawful activities because Sea Shepherd was never contacted by any US government official in connection with this matter.
For Sea Shepherd, the most important part of this document is the declaration by Japan that Sea Shepherd has been responsible for the whaling fleet not reaching their quotas for the last few years. This completely validates Sea Shepherd's actions as effective, he continued.
The next IWC meetings are set to take place in Tromsø, Norway, during May and June of this year as well as in St. Helier, Jersey, Channel Islands in July.
It is unsure what stance Japan will take during the next meeting but the fisheries agency says that the whale meat stockpile in August was estimated at 5,790 tonnes, an amount not experienced since April 2006, this is reportedly said to be due to a sharp decline in consumption during recent years.
Although, one cable states that: The new Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) administration shares the same fundamental position on whaling as the outgoing Liberal Democratic Party, including support for the resumption of commercial whaling and continued research whaling.
The documents do however reveal the stance and opinion of the U.S. during the talks, stating that The International Whaling Commission has not functioned effectively for many years due to the polarized views of its members. Previous efforts to resolve conflicts within the organization have not succeeded.
The conflicts have at times become an irritant in the relations among the nations concerned, including the United States and Japan. They have also undermined whale conservation and management by the IWC.
The new administrations in Japan and the United States have a unique opportunity to chart a different course for the IWC, and resolve our long-standing disagreements through fundamental reform of the IWC. This is a small issue but it is important to the Obama Administration that it be resolved quickly.”
By Brian Loubet Jambert - FIS