Tokyo: Japan on Wednesday announced its withdrawal from the International Whaling Commission (IWC) conservation body and said it will resume commercial whale hunting from July 2019, a move that is likely to draw international criticism.
The decision was announced in an official statement by the Japanese government spokesperson Yoshihide Suga, who said whaling will resume within Japan's territorial waters and exclusive economic zones.
Japan, an IWC member since 1951, will cease whaling activities in the Antarctic Ocean or other parts of the Southern Hemisphere, the statement said, adding that it will hunt species with so-called 'healthy' population numbers.
Commercial whaling was banned by the IWC in 1986 after some species were almost driven to extinction. But, for many years Japan has hunted whales for what it calls "scientific research" and to sell the meat, a programme widely slammed by conservationists.
"In its long history, Japan has used whales not only as a source of protein but also for a variety of other purposes," said the government statement.
"Engagement in whaling has been supporting local communities, and thereby developed the life and culture of using whales."
With this move, Japan will be able to freely hunt species currently protected by the IWC, like minke whales, the BBC reported.
The move to resume commercial whaling drew criticism from conservation groups and governments. "The declaration today is out of step with the international community, let alone the protection needed to safeguard the future of our oceans and these majestic creatures," said Greenpeace Japan Executive Director Sam Annesley.
"The government of Japan must urgently act to conserve marine ecosystems, rather than resume commercial whaling."
Australia called Japan's decision to withdraw from the IWC "regrettable" and urged Japan to return to the convention as a "matter of priority".
Iceland and Norway had also objected to the IWC's moratorium and continue to hunt whales commercially without relying on science as an excuse.
While the Japanese political class has sought the resumption of commercial whaling activities, campaigners say eating whale was becoming "less and less popular".
"Actually many (regular) people don't have any interest in whales or whaling now in Japan," Nanami Kurasawa of the Iruka and Kujira (dolphin and whale) Action Network was quoted as saying by CNN.