TOKYO (AP) – Major pro-whaling nation Japan on Wednesday welcomed Iceland’s decision to resume commercial whaling, saying Iceland’s catch won’t “endanger the whale population.”

Iceland declared Tuesday it was issuing licenses to hunt about 40 fin and minke whales over the next 10 months, defying a nearly two-decade moratorium on commercial whaling.

“Japan greatly welcomes Iceland’s decision,” said Fisheries Agency official Hideki Moronuki.

“The size of Iceland’s catch will in no way endanger the whale population,” he said.

British Fisheries Minister Ben Bradshaw, meanwhile, summoned Iceland’s ambassador in London to explain his country’s decision to resume whaling, British government officials said.

“World opinion is rightly outraged by this flagrant disregard for international agreements,” Bradshaw said. “There is no rationale for this decision, and Iceland cannot even find markets for the whale meat it gets from so-called scientific whaling.”

Japan, Iceland, Norway and other pro-whaling nations have been pushing the International Whaling Commission to revoke the 1986 ban on commercial hunts amid controversy over exactly how many whales are left in the world’s oceans.

At an IWC meeting in June, those nations passed a symbolic resolution to support ending the moratorium – but officially ending the ban would require a 75 percent majority among commission members.

“There is no change to our view that controlled whaling is environmentally sustainable, and a right of whaling communities,” Moronuki said.

Japan and Iceland already hunt whales under a much-criticized scientific research program, and leftover meat ends up on the market. But whale meat is increasingly out of fashion in Japan, leading to an unprecedented glut and plunging prices.

Still, the government plans to kill 1,070 minke whales in 2006, as well as a total of 170 Bryde’s, sei, sperm and fin whales.

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