The move comes after years of bitter confrontations between the ships of Japan's whaling fleet and those of the anti-whaling activist group, Sea Shepherd
Eleanor Hall asked the ABC's North Asia correspondent, Mark Willacy, just how credible this report really is ?
Presenter: Eleanor Hall
Speaker: North Asia correspondent, Mark Willacy
WILLACY: The report is in the Asahi newspaper and that's one of the more respected papers here. And it says the Japanese Fisheries Agency is considering suspending this year's whaling hunt in the Southern Ocean and the reason is the fleets ageing factory ship. The 8,000 tonne Mashimaro has been involved in Japan's so-called scientific whaling program since it began 25 years ago. So it's the biggest ship in the fleet. The workers on the Mashimaro, they're involved in taking the whales apart, removing the bits and pieces needed in this so-called scientific research. Now we've spoken to Japan's Fisheries Agency this morning. They've refused to confirm this newspaper report, but the agency does admit it wants to refurbish and repair the factory ship. They actually had a meeting on Friday to discuss this and once the plan is accepted apparently, they will talk to a shipbuilding company about repairs, repairs that will take several months, meaning that will put this year's hunt in the Antarctic in grave doubt.
HALL: So is the repair of the ship likely to be the key reason for delaying the whale hunt or could this be a way for Japan to end it's whaling without losing face?
WILLACY: It's no secret that the Mashimaro does need repairs. It's been involved as I say for a quarter of a century in Japan's whaling program, 25 straight years of so-called scientific whaling. But I think there's an overall cost factor at play here Eleanor. This is a country facing an earthquake and tsunami repair bill of hundreds of billions of dollars. Then there's the clean up and compensation bill from the Fukushima nuclear disaster, that's hundreds of billions more. And Japan has we all know the greatest public debt in the industrialised world, so there's not a lot of cash to splash about and while this whaling program is supposed to be for science and research. The Fisheries Agency is allowed to sell the meat, but as they say, very few Japanese actually eat it. There are stockpiles of whale meat sitting in freezers around the country. I think only five per cent of Japanese actually eat it regularly and at last count, there were 6,000 tonnes of this whale meat in freezers around Japan. So this is a program that's not making any money, it relies for it's very survival on government subsidies and the mood here rather is that the money should be going on the people who need it, people in the tsunami and nuclear zones, not on programs Japan doesn't need.
HALL: So if there are cost issues for suspending or cancelling the whaling program. How will it be received by those who supported whaling in the past?
WILLACY: Well, I don't think it will be received very well, because they can argue that it's not a lot of money in the greater scheme of things. And it's true there will be a backlash from more nationalistic elements as well right wing Opposition politicians. They will argue that this is a capitulation to the eco-terrorist at Sea Shepherd, a capitulation to those in the West who want to push Japan around. So expect a ferocious reaction from the Opposition Liberal Democratic Party, which for 50 years when they were in government. They were ardent supporters of whaling and whaling communities all around Japan. In fact, a pro-whaling faction of the Liberal Democratic Party held a meeting yesterday we've just learned, and it warned that a suspension, even if it's a suspension for one year, well that would hurt Japan's international image. And I think by that mean Japan's image as a nation that doesn't want to be pushed around.