A surprise shipment of 4,250 kg of frozen whale products from Norwegian company Myklebust Trading arrived in Tokyo a week ago. International commercial trade in whale products is banned by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
Norway - unlike Iceland - has not successfully exported whale meat commercially to Asia since the 1980s, although attempts have been made. In 2008, a five metric ton shipment of minke whale meat from Myklebust Trading was rejected by the Japanese govt due to "contamination concerns".
When Norway resumed commercial whaling in 1993 in defiance of the International Whaling Commission (IWC)'s ban, the US certified Norway under legislation called the Pelly Amendment. Then-President Clinton refrained from imposing trade sanctions, in part because Norway wasn't exporting whale products at that time.
This export of Norwegian whale meat to Japan was confirmed by Statistics Norway, which also said Norway received 14 metric tons of whale products from Iceland that same month. It's known that Myklebust Trading recently sought guidance from the Norwegian government on imports of whale meat from Iceland.
Iceland, meanwhile, has shipped almost 3,000 metric tons of whale meat to Japan since it resumed commercial whaling in 2006, and Icelandic products now represent some 20% of Japanese whale meat sales.
In 2012, the Obama administration opted to use diplomatic pressure against Iceland to urge it to stop its whaling. It's currently considering additional actions, including the imposition of trade sanctions against Iceland under the Pelly Amendment.
Norwegian whaling's been in a long-term downward spiral. Many analysts feel the only way for it to survive is to gain access to the Japanese market. Compared to 34 Norwegian whaling vessels hunting in 2003, only 20 took part in the 2012 whaling season. The industry's also been unable to build domestic consumer interest, and has fallen far short of using its full quota. In 2012, 65% of the quota went unused, compared to 9% in 2003.In Nov.2011, in response to calls from its whaling industry, Norway met with Japan to discuss opening the Japanese market to Norwegian whale products. A month later, Norway issued a CITES export license to Myklebust Trading.
In April 2010, a Japanese vessel attempted to ship Icelandic whale meat from Rotterdam to Japan. Greenpeace activists chained themselves to the NYK Orion, after discovering the ship was about to sail with seven containers of endangered fin whale meat on board.