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Environmental, Natural Resources, & Energy Law

LC’s International Env. Law Project helps trigger investigation into Japan’s whale meat trade

December 18, 2017

  • By Christin Khan, NOAA / NEFSC ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The International Environmental Law Project (IELP) at Lewis & Clark Law School prepared a legal opinion that helped trigger an international investigation to determine whether Japan is illegally trading in the meat of sei whales. Based on IELP’s legal opinion and other information, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) took an important step toward ending Japan’s domestic sale of sei whale meat by agreeing to investigate Japan’s trade in sei whales.

Sei whales were decimated by commercial whaling in the 1800s and early 1900s and are now listed as “threatened with extinction” by CITES, which affords them the highest level of trade protection—they may not be imported or introduced from high seas areas for “primarily commercial purposes.” This prohibition gives effect to the central objective of CITES—to prevent overexploitation of species due to trade.

Attending the 2017 CITES meeting in Geneva, IELP Professor Erica Lyman and Fellow Olivier Jamin (’17) argued that Japan is violating CITES by importing sei whale meat for commercial sale. Japan kills 134 sei whales each year on the high seas in the North Pacific for what it claims is scientific research. IELP’s legal opinion acknowledges that Japan uses some parts of the sei whale for scientific research. However, the vast majority—up to 12 tons of each whale—is imported primarily for commercial sale for human consumption. IELP’s conclusions are based on evidence drawn directly from government documents that state that the primary goal of commercial whale meat sales is to generate income to support future whaling endeavors.

CITES will now send a mission to Japan to investigate its trade in sei whale meat. IELP, led by Professor Lyman, will work with its clients—Animal Welfare Institute, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, and Humane Society International—to ensure that CITES has the best available evidence to make a decision on this crucial issue at its next meeting in Russia in October 2018. IELP’s legal opinion can be found here.

The International Environmental Law Project (IELP) at Lewis & Clark Law School works with governments, non-governmental organizations, and international institutions to develop, implement, and enforce international environmental law to tackle some of today’s most challenging global issues, including climate changebiodiversity conservationoceans and fisheries and trade and the environment. As the only on-campus legal clinic at a U.S. law school focusing solely on international environmental law, IELP also educates and trains Lewis & Clark Law School students to become effective international lawyers. Through classroom instruction, representation of clients, and hands-on participation at international environmental treaty negotiations, students learn the fundamentals of international environmental law and policy.