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Japan hoping to cultivate a renewed taste for whale

Washington Post

NATORI, Japan – Japan is lobbying to overthrow a nearly two-decade-old moratorium on commercial whaling at the 57th International Whaling Commission meeting in South Korea next week.

Officials also are locked in a struggle back home to rekindle the nation’s ebbing tradition of eating whale.

Whale meat is considered a delicacy in Japan. Supporters say eating whale should not be allowed to die out lest the nation lose a culinary heritage.

Though commercial whaling has been banned since the 1980s to protect whales from being hunted to extinction, Japan brings in the world’s largest catch from annual harvests of legal “scientific whaling.” Research shows that whale meat has become readily available to Japanese consumers at specialty restaurants and gourmet groceries. Animal-rights activists decry the practice as small-scale commercial whaling in disguise.

Some polls show that younger generations of Japanese are more interested in conservation than culinary delights. The price for whale meat in Japan has decreased in recent years, falling to $12 a pound in 2004 compared with $15 a pound in 1999. Demand for whale meat has been anemic. Last year, the industry put 20 percent of its 4,000-ton haul into frozen surplus.

So the government and pro-whaling groups have pumped cash into the promotion of eating whale meat. The government is spending about $5 million a year on such campaigns while groups of housewives and other organizations are sponsoring whale cooking classes and related seminars to stimulate the market, according to officials and industry sources.

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