The Truth about Sealord, Nissui, Earth Island, and the Whales

Commentary by Paul Watson
Founder and President of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

Unfortunately, the recent news that the Japanese company Nissui has sold their shares and interests in whaling has led many people to believe that Japanese whaling has ended.

Nothing can be further from the truth. It is a victory for the whales that Nissui has agreed to get out of the whaling business, but they have merely divested themselves of their shares and these shares have been taken over by the government of Japan.

The illegal Japanese whaling fleet intends to return to the Southern Oceans in December to once again slaughter whales and this time they intend to target 50 endangered fin whales and 50 endangered humpback whales.

Greenpeace will not be returning, so Sea Shepherd will be the only organization taking a ship back to the Antarctic Whale Sanctuary in December. That is, unless of course, we can convince Greenpeace to join us, which appears at this point to be unlikely.  

Kyodo Senpaku, the company that operates the Japanese whaling fleet announced that private companies like Nissui will be divesting their shares in whaling operations.

According to Mark Palmer of Earth Island Institute, "It is clear that the public pressure on corporate share holders like Nissui and Sealord has shown how fragile corporate interest in whaling actually is. Clearly the international seafood industry does not wish to be
associated with the Japanese Government's so-called scientific whaling programme and has no interest in a return to commercial whaling. However rather than simply dumping the shares, Sealord and Gortons parent company Nissui should have used its influence to help end whaling. The people have spoken, consumers have spoken, and corporations have spoken. Kyodo Senpaku, the Fisheries Agency of Japan, and the Institute of Cetacean Research should face up to reality and end the annual whale hunt."

Nothing has changed except the names of the owners of the ships and the industry.

Or has it?

The announcement by Nissui sends a message loud and clear that the international public has no tolerance for Japanese whaling.

Nissui had to divest because two of their companies, Gorton's Seafood of the United States and Sealord of New Zealand, were the target of consumer boycotts in nations that deeply care about whales.

The campaign began with the Earth Island Institute in January 2005 when Sealord inquired with Earth Island about becoming certified as "dolphin safe" seafood company. Earth Island is the organization that monitors dolphin safe tuna worldwide.

Earth Island informed Sealord that they could not be certified because they were half-owned by Nissui, a company with shares in the Japanese whaling industry.

Further investigation by Earth Island resulted in a decision in November 2005 to launch a boycott of Sealord. Earth Island informed Sealord that the consumers had a right to know of Sealord's connection to a company that illegally kills whales and Australian and New Zealand consumers were not very happy to support a company involved with whaling.

Sealord responded by calling Earth Island a "commercial terrorist organization." However, name calling did not get the boycott off their back. Thousands of leaflets were distributed at supermarkets - the boycott expanded and gained a wide base of support by February of 2006.

Mark Berman of Earth Island traveled to New Zealand in February to push the campaign into high gear with the support of grassroots Kiwi groups and his efforts paid off with the recent announcement by Nissui.

Nissui has decided to keep their holdings in Sealord and in Gorton's. They have sold their shares and interests in whaling and one reason for this is that whaling is becoming increasingly more unpopular both outside and inside Japan.

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is very appreciative of the incredible effort that the Earth Island Institute put into this campaign.

Recent publicity has focused on Greenpeace being solely responsible for the decision of these companies to disassociate themselves from whaling. Greenpeace has the bigger public relations machine, and yes, Greenpeace was indeed involved in putting pressure on Gorton's Seafood in the U.S. But this only happened very recently and they did not support the boycott of Sealord for fear of offending the Maori who owned the other 50% of the New Zealand company.

The campaign began and spearheaded by Earth Island was helped a great deal because it was an effort picked up and supported by other organizations including Environmental Investigations Agency (EIA), The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, Greenpeace, and others.

According to EIA:

On 24 March 2006, Kyodo Senpaku Kaisha Ltd, the company which carries out Japan's 'scientific' whaling under contract to the Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR), announced that its present shareholders would be transferring all shares in the company to several public-interest corporations including the ICR.

The shareholders are Nippon Suisan Kaisha, Ltd. ('Nissui'), Kyokuyo Co., Ltd, Taiyo A&F Co., Ltd (a wholly owned subsidiary of the Maruha Group) and Delmar Co Ltd. Nissui and Kyokuyo own around 32% each of Kyodo Senpaku, with 19% and 16% owned by Taiyo A&F and Delmar respectively.

According to subsequent press reports, Nissui has stated that it also intends to stop its canning and sale of whale meat.

In November 2005, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) released a report, "The Gorton's Family Whale Killing Business," targeting one of Nippon Suisan's most profitable subsidiary companies, Gorton's of Gloucester.

EIA, in a joint campaign with the Humane Society of the United States and Greenpeace, called on Gorton's to use its connections with Nissui to bring an end to Japan's whale hunting. A subsequent global consumer campaign putting pressure on Gorton's and other Nissui subsidiaries has no doubt brought about this change in shareholder structure.

The fact that Japanese fisheries companies with a strong historical association with whaling are distancing themselves from Japan's 'scientific' whaling demonstrates clearly that there is no commercial future in whaling. The current market for whales is an artificial one, supported by government subsidies and distribution of cut price whale meat to public institutions such as schools and hospitals.

However in reality the situation will not change unless these companies act to permanently disassemble the whaling fleet. The donation of their shares to 'public-interest' companies will merely serve to put whaling even more under the control of the Japanese government Fisheries Agency.

EIA investigations indicate that Nissui and Kyokuyo are the two major whale meat canning companies in Japan and they distribute to thousands of retail outlets across Japan.

EIA is seeking an assurance from Nissui that they are permanently stopping the processing and distribution of whale meat, and are not merely handing over their facilities and distribution networks to another company. EIA is calling all shareholders of Kyodo Senpaku to permanently end the processing and distribution of all whale, dolphin and porpoise products.

Nissui, Kyokuyo and Taiyo A&F (Maruha) played a major part in Japan's appalling history of commercial whaling. EIA is calling on these companies to make amends for their contribution to the destruction of the world's whales by disassembling the whaling fleet and putting an end to Japan's 'scientific' whaling.

It was a campaign with numerous players carried out globally by organizations and individuals on five continents and it was an important strike at the underbelly of whaling, but credit should go to Earth Island Institute for leading this charge so effectively.

Well done, EII.