SAO PAULO – Members of the International Whaling Commission defeated a Japanese proposal to reinstate commercial whaling at a meeting in Brazil on Friday.
The commission suspended commercial whaling in the 1980s, but Japan argued that stocks have recovered sufficiently for the ban to be lifted and that no good reason exists to maintain a measure that was meant to be temporary. It has repeatedly tried to lift the ban.
Other countries argued that many whale populations are still vulnerable and that whaling is increasingly seen as unacceptable.
Japan's proposal was defeated Friday by a vote of 41-27 in Florianopolis, Brazil.
"This is not a debate about human rights nor is it a debate about global food security," Nick Gales, Australia's commissioner to the IWC, said during a debate on Thursday. "It is a business proposition against which many parties hold legitimate environmental and welfare concerns."
After the vote, Japan suggested that it would reconsider its membership in the international body.
It has argued that the commission has become "intolerant" and remains deadlocked on many issues because of the divide between countries that prize conservation and those that push for the sustainable use of whales.
Japan had proposed changes to the way the body operates, including a provision which would allow measures to be adopted by a simple, rather than super, majority.
"If scientific evidence and diversity are not respected, if commercial whaling based on science is completely denied, and if there is no possibility for the different positions and views to coexist with mutual understanding and respect, then Japan will be pressed to undertake a fundamental reassessment of its position as a member of the IWC," Masaaki Taniai, Japan's state minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries, said after the vote Friday.
Patrick Ramage, director of marine conservation at the International Fund for Animal Welfare, noted that Japan has frequently threatened to pull out of the body.
The measure's "adoption would have been a big step backwards for the IWC, returning us to the bygone days of open commercial whaling instead of becoming a modern conservation body," Ramage said in a statement. "The real way forward for whales is conservation and responsible whale watching, not cruel and unnecessary whale killing."
The Japanese have hunted whales for centuries and see it as a cheaper alternative source of protein. They currently hunt under a commission provision that allows killing whales for research purposes.
The number of whales Japan kills each year is now capped at 333, about a third of the number it used to kill before the International Court of Justice ruled in 2014 that its program wasn't scientific in nature.
Some, however, say the research program remains a cover for commercial whaling because the whale meat is sold for food.