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Japanese no longer like whale meat--anti-whalers

Written by: Staff
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TOKYO, June 13 (Reuters) The Japanese public no longer likes eating whale meat and Tokyo's argument that whaling should be maintained to meet consumer demand is a fabrication, a conservationist group said today.

Reflecting falling demand, domestic stockpiles of whale meat have been increasing, said the Tokyo-based Dolphin&Whale Action Network in a report written by freelance journalist Junko Sakuma.

''The Fisheries Agency continues to carry out whaling based on a fictitious public opinion,'' Sakuma told a news conference, showing data released by the agency pointing to an increase in stockpiles of whale meat.

''Many people think the Japanese like whale meat and therefore continue whaling. That's not true.'' Japan abandoned commercial whaling in 1986 in line with an international ban, but began research whaling the next year and has campaigned for a return to limited commercial whaling.

At the coming meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC), Tokyo plans to call for a new group for nations that support commercial whaling in a bid to end the 20-year-old ban.

Pro-whaling nations could win a slim majority at the June 16-20 IWC meeting in the Caribbean island nation of St Kitts and Nevis, but will still fall short of the three-quarters support needed to end the moratorium.

Japan insists that eating whale is a cultural tradition that is still very much alive due to consumer demand for the sea mammal's meat.

The Fisheries Agency acknowledged that stockpiles had indeed risen recently, but attributed this to the increase in the amount of whales caught, not to falling demand.

''When reports about rising stockpiles surfaced, we got complaint calls from consumers -- 'where can I buy them, I can't find them in my neighbourhood supermarket','' said Hideki Moronuki, chief of the agency's whaling section.

''There is plenty of potential demand.'' Much of the meat from Japan's whaling ends up on the tables of gourmet restaurants, and ordinary Japanese rarely come across a whale meat dish.

In a bid to whet an appetite for whale among younger consumers, a new Japanese company was set up in May to expand sales of the meat to include school lunches and some family-oriented restaurant chains.

''Until now, there were people who wanted to eat whale meat but could not buy it,'' Moronuki said.

Japan blames whales for declining fish catches and says it supports protection of endangered species but argues that others, such as the minke, are numerous enough to be hunted within limits.

Japan's take of whale on its Antarctic hunt earlier this year nearly doubled to 850 minke whales. Its vessels also brought back, for the first time, 10 fin whales -- which conservationists say are endangered.

REUTERS SHB VV1657

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