Whale meat was an affordable source of protein during Japan’s malnourished years after World War II, with annual consumption peaking at 233,000 tons in 1962.

The whale was quickly replaced by other meats. The supply of whale meat fell to 6,000 tons in 1986, a year before the IWC-imposed moratorium on commercial whaling banned hunting of several species of whales.

Under the whaling investigation, criticized as a cover for commercial whaling because the meat was sold on the market, Japan caught up to 1,200 whales a year. It has since slashed its catch after international protests intensified and the supply and consumption of whale meat plummeted in the country.

The annual supply of meat fluctuated between 3,000 and 5,000 tons, including imports from Norway and Iceland. The amount fell further in 2019 to 2,000 tonnes, or 20 grams (less than 1 ounce) of whale meat per person per year, Fisheries Agency statistics show.

Whaling officials attributed the decline in supply in the past three years to a lack of imports due to the pandemic, and plan to nearly double this year’s supply with imports of more than 2,500 tonnes from Iceland.

Japan managed to get the only remaining whaling company in Iceland to hunt whales exclusively for shipment to Japan, whaling officials said. Iceland caught just one minke whale in the 2021 season, according to the IWC.

Criticizing Iceland’s export to Japan, the International Fund for Animal Welfare said it «opposes all commercial whaling because it is inherently cruel.»

With uncertain prospects for imports, Kyodo Senpaku wants the government to raise Japan’s annual catch quota to levels that can supply about 5,000 tonnes, the level Kubo describes as the threshold for sustaining the industry.

“From a long-term perspective, I think it would be difficult to keep the industry at current supply levels,” Kubo said. «We must expand both supply and demand, which have been reduced.»

With extremely limited supply, whale meat processing cannot be a viable business and may not last for generations to come, he added.

Yuki Okoshi, who began serving whale meat dishes at his Japanese-style seafood restaurant three years ago when higher-quality whale meat became available under commercial whaling, said he hopes the whale meat supply stabilizes.

Pointing to the declining supply of whale meat in recent years, Okoshi said, «The future of the whaling industry depends on whether customers need us, and perhaps restaurants like us that are closest to consumers, They have the key to survival.

“Whaling may be a political issue, but the relationships between the restaurant and our customers are very simple,” Okoshi said. “We serve good food at reasonable prices and the customers are happy. That’s all about it.»