TOKYO (AFP) - Japan's fisheries minister said on Tuesday the country will not stop hunting whales, despite fierce criticism from other countries and violent clashes at sea with militant conservationists.
"I don't think there will be any kind of an end for whaling by Japan," Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi told AFP in an interview.
Mr Hayashi, who took the ministerial post overseeing the country's whaling programmes in December, said the criticism of the practice is "a cultural attack, a kind of prejudice against Japanese culture".
Japan uses a loophole in an international ban on whaling that allows for lethal scientific research on the mammals, but it makes no secret of the fact that the mammals ultimately end up on menus.
Tokyo defends whaling as a tradition and accuses Western critics of disrespecting its culture. Norway and Iceland are the only nations that hunt whales in open defiance of a 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling.
Australia and New Zealand voice outrage over Japan's annual expeditions in the Southern Ocean, which the International Whaling Commission considers a sanctuary for the ocean giants.
The anti-whaling Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has chased the Japanese fleet hunting whales off Antarctica for several years in an attempt to stop the mammals being slaughtered.
Japanese whalers and the militant conservationists have frequently been involved in dangerous clashes in icy waters off Antarctica. In the latest clash on Monday, each side accused the other of ramming its vessels.