In his Commentary, Read reminds us that Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) catches are common in the world's fisheries (Agnew et al., 2009) and that incidental by-catch may constitute more than 40% of total catches for marine fisheries (Davies et al., 2009). How is the by-catch of whales in Japan and Korea (the other country that reports a large by-catch of minke whales, Table 1) any different? Unlike most IUU fisheries, the by-catch of whales in Japan and Korea is neither illegal nor unreported, only unregulated and under-reported (e.g. Baker et al., 2006, 2007). Unlike most marine fisheries, products from the by-catch of whales can be sold openly on commercial markets in both countries and there has been no systematic effort to limit or mitigate the by-catch. On the contrary, the commercial value of whale products (reportedly up to US$100 000 for an adult minke whale, Neff, 2004), provides an incentive to promote, rather than reduce, any net entanglement. In this regard, the by-catch of whales in Japan and Korea is more like an unregulated commercial hunt than an incidental or illegal fishery.

Table 1.  The rise of commercial ‘by-catch whaling’ in Japan and Korea
YearJARPN or JARPNIIJapanese reported by-catchKorean reported by-catchReferences
  1. The reported catches of minke whales from Japan's scientific whaling program in the North Pacific (JARPN and JARPNII) are compared with the reported by-catch of this species in Japan and Korea for the years 1996–2008, extending the summary shown in table 1 of Lukoschek et al. (2009). The year 1996 was the first year the Government of Korea provided records of by-catch to the International Whaling Commission.

  2. IWC refers to the J. Cetacean Res. Mgmt., Vol. 1–11 (Suppl.), which present summaries of catch and by-catch records as submitted by member nations in annual progress reports (ProgRep). SC/61/ProgRep for Japan and Korea, covering the year 2008, are available from the Secretariat, International Whaling Commission, The Red House, 135 Station Road, Impington, Cambridge CB4 9NP, UK.

199677271291998. Rep. Int. Whal. Commn, Vol. 48
199710027781999. IWC, Vol. 1 Suppl.
199810024452000. IWC, Vol. 2 Suppl.
199910019562001. IWC, Vol. 3 Suppl.
20004029772002. IWC, Vol. 4 Suppl.
2001100891602003. IWC, Vol. 5 Suppl.
2002150116832004. IWC, Vol. 6 Suppl.
2003150137872005. IWC, Vol. 7 Suppl.
2004159113692006. IWC, Vol. 8 Suppl.
20052221221072007. IWC, Vol. 9 Suppl.
2006197125802008. IWC, Vol. 10 Suppl.
2007208156802009. IWC, Vol. 11 Suppl.
200816913480SC/61/ProgRep Japan and Korea

We agree with Read that the increase in the reported numbers of whales killed in Japan since the 2001 change of regulations represents an improvement in the estimate of the true take from by-catch. However, we do not agree with his conclusion that the Government of Japan acted wisely in implementing this change. Without some effort to mitigate by-catch, the improved reporting alone has done nothing to protect the depleted J-stock of minke whales found in the coastal waters of Japan and Korea. After the abrupt increase in reported by-catch following the 2001 change, the numbers have continued to increase (albeit, more slowly) to a high of 156 in 2007 and 134 in 2008 (Table 1). With the inclusion of Korean records, the number of minke whales reportedly killed as by-catch has averaged more than 200/year since 2001. Since 1996, when Korea began keeping records, the total reported by-catch of minke whales has exceeded the number killed in Japan's controversial scientific whaling programs in the North Pacific (JARPN and JARPNII). Given our estimates from molecular monitoring of whale-meat markets in Japan (Baker et al., 2000; Lukoschek et al., 2009) and Korea (Baker et al., 2007), these ‘official’ reports are likely to represent perhaps only half of the true level of IUU exploitation during much of this time.

The rise of commercial ‘by-catch whaling’ and its threat to the survival of the J-stock can only be reversed by greater oversight of the International Whaling Commission and greater regulatory control by the Japanese and Korean governments, including strategies for mitigation. Without such action, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that ‘by-catch whaling’, like ‘scientific whaling’, is simply another way to circumvent the current moratorium on commercial whaling and to skirt the imperative for a scientific-based conservation and management procedure.


  1. Top of page
  2. References