Japan has insisted that it no longer hunts endangered sei whales in international waters, but faced accusations of still violating a wildlife treaty by allowing commercialisation of meat from past catches.
The standing committee of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) last October found Japan in breach of the treaty and ordered it to rectify the situation or face trade sanctions.
The elected panel, which handles the treaty's compliance and enforcement, dismissed Japan's claims that the cull since 2002 of some 1,500 North Pacific sei whales was only scientifically motivated.
Instead, it found that the hunt was primarily commercially motivated, and thus constituted international trade in a protected species and a clear violation of the treaty.
Japan told the committee meeting in Geneva on Friday that it no longer permits the hunting of sei whale on the high sea and is therefore in compliance with CITES.
"This matter should be considered closed," a member of the Japanese delegation said, a day before a global conference of all 183 countries that have signed the treaty kicks off in Geneva.
But committee members from a range of countries, including the European Union, Israel, Niger, Peru, and the United States, disagreed.
Many voiced outrages at the continued sale of meat and blubber from the whales deemed to have been illegally culled and imported over a 16-year period.
According to conservationists, 1,500 tonnes of meat from 131 sei whales killed in 2018 alone have been commercialised in Japan, and sei whale meat remains widely available in shops and restaurants in the country.