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International Environmental Law Clinic Sheds Light on Japan’s Whale Meat Trade

December 18, 2017

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) agreed to investigate Japan’s trade in sei whales.

At the 2017 CITES meeting in Geneva, Law Professor Erica Lyman and LLM student and IELP Fellow Olivier Jamin argued that Japan is violating CITES by importing sei whale meat for commercial sale.

“Japan kills up to134 sei whales each year on the high seas in the North Pacific as part of its scientific whaling program,” said Lyman. “However, the vast majority of the whale —about 12 tons of each whale—is imported for commercial purposes, primarily as food.”

These are conclusions 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. IELP’s legal opinion can be found here.

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.

CITES will 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 is an environmental law clinic that trains and educates the next generation of international environmental advocates through classroom instruction, representation of clients, and hands-on participation at international environmental treaty negotiations. The IELP contracts with governments, non-governmental organizations, and international institutions to develop, implement, and enforce international environmental law, tackling some of today’s most challenging global issues.

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