Japan Denies Whaling Information to Greenpeace

16 September 2010

The recent conviction of two anti-whaling activists in Japan was facilitated by the government’s denial of information about whale meat sales by a government-subsidized company, according to the environmental group Greenpeace.

The “Tokyo Two” were convicted Sept. 6 of theft and trespass and given a one year jail sentence, suspended for three years.

The Japanese government had denied access to records that Greenpeace hoped would prove they were engaged in a legitimate public interest investigation of actual embezzlement.

The denial in February was based on arguments that Greenpeace would disparage companies which trade in whale meat and that the requested information was commercially sensitive.

Greenpeace countered that the government was discriminating against them unfairly and that the commercially sensitive contention is undercut by the unique government-business relationship involved. 

Background

Japan’s whaling is overseen by the Fisheries Agency of Japan (FAJ), which authorizes the Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR) to conduct “research” on a set number of whales. ICR is nominally independent but in practice mostly run by ex-bureaucrats from the FAJ.

The ICR has long had a contract with a company called Kyodo Senpaku (KS). KS operates the fleet and catches the whales. “Then ICR performs its perfunctory ‘research’ on them,” explained Greenpeace staff member Daniel Simons to FreedomInfo.org.  Once a year, around June, the whale meat (formally known as “research by-product”) is sold by ICR to KS at a government-set rate, with the stated objective of supplying all layers of society with affordable whale meat, Simons explained further. The sales partially support the research agency, which also gets other government funds.

Greenpeace sought detailed production statistics in order to refute what it considers a government cover-up of whistleblowers’ contention that prime cuts of whale meat were sent as gifts to FAJ bureaucrats and pro-whaling members of the Diet, Japan’s parliament, or sold by crew members for their own profit.

The FAJ subsequently said some meat was given to crew members as a legitimate gift at the end of each hunt, but Greenpeace felt this defense was suspect, considering the size of one such consignment that the group intercepted.

Greenpeace requested detailed statistics of whale meat production for the two previous years and to whom and when it was sold. “We intended to show a suspicious relative shortfall of cuts like unesu (throat meat) and tail meat as our whistleblowers indicated the meat was embezzled prior to weighing and documentation of production,” Simons said. The data was also expected to undercut the sale-to-crew members defense, and Greenpeace also sought the sales contract between ICR and KS, to show there was no mention of purchases of whale meat for “souvenir” use.

Greenpeace’s Goals an Issue in Denial

Greenpeace received “highly blacked-out tables of production statistics, showing only the subtotals of different classes of meat produced – not the volume of specific types such as unesu and tail meat, and not showing details of sales,” according to Simons.  He also said, “The sales contract was also completely blacked out except the heading and footer.”

The government argued that Greenpeace is opposed to whaling and if the details of companies which buy whale meat are disclosed, “we can expect that they will pursue conduct designed to accelerate withdrawal from whaling related businesses.” Therefore, “the said information corresponds to disclosure of information held by a government agency as defined in Article 5 -2 of the law (Act No. 42, promulgated on 14th of May 1999) (Hereafter the ‘Act’) whereby “on disclosure, there is a reasonable fear that the rights of the corresponding individual or legal entity, or the lawful interests and competitive position would be injured,” and should not be disclosed.”

The government also said the sales contract for whale meat between the ICR and KS should not be disclosed as “the contents of contracts between two corporate entities correspond to ‘Commercial secrets’ and generally do not correspond to matters which should be laid open to the public.” With regard to the detailed statistics on whale meat production, the government argued that disclosure would lead to a situation where “retailers will be able to find out which parts (in particular the choice cuts) are produced in what volumes and this could result in retailers buying-up the choice cuts such as “tail meat”, “Special Tail meat” etc. and monopolizing them, restricting their sale, resulting in the risk that speculative activity could occur in the market.”

Greenpeace said the government was engaged in impermissible discrimination between requesters, as its reasons for refusal were tied to Greenpeace’s opposition to whaling.

“With regard to the supposed commercial nature of the sales contract,” Simons said, “we argued that there is a clear public interest in disclosure, as Kyodo Senpaku has been under contract for over 20 years with no sign that the ICR intends to find a new contractor. Hence the commercial secrecy aspect is not credible.”  He noted that the ICR and Kyodo Senpaku even shared a building until recently.

Concerning the feared speculative activity, Simons stated, “We note that after 23 years of ‘research whaling’ traders already know how much of each type of meat is produced and that these statistics were made available in the past with apparently no problem.”

Helen Darbishire, director of Access Info Europe, issued a statement saying: “The Japanese government is using spurious arguments to hide information which would embarrass them. By denying this information, which is essential for public debate about Japan’s illegal whaling industry, the government is violating the rights of access to information and freedom of expression.”

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