Story highlights

Greenpeace says money is being "siphoned away" from the disaster victims

The government says the funds help support the recovery of a devastated whaling town

Officials: The deployment of guards with this year's whaling fleet is the largest yet

Tokyo CNN  — 

The Japanese government has affirmed that $29 million from its budget for post-earthquake and tsunami reconstruction is going toward extra security measures for the country’s whaling fleet, angering environmental activists like Greenpeace.

The whaling industry is “siphoning money away from the victims of the March 11 triple disaster, at a time when they need it most,” Junichi Sato, executive director of Greenpeace Japan, said this week, referring to the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis that struck Japan in March.

But Tatsuya Nakaoku, an official from the Japanese Fisheries Agency, said Thursday he funds would help “support the reconstruction of a whaling town and nearby area,” which was devastated by the natural disasters.

“Many people in the area eat whale meat,” he said. “They are waiting for Japan’s commercial whaling to resume and it is their hope for recovery.”

The government had said earlier this year, after it passed the tsunami reconstruction budget, that it would strengthen “measures against acts of sabotage by anti-whaling groups,” Nakaoku said.

The government earmarked a total of 498.9 billion yen ($6.4 billion) of the reconstruction budget for spending on fisheries. Of that, 2.28 billion yen has been put into extra security measures for the whaling fleet, which left port for its annual hunt Tuesday.

Japan’s whale hunts are conducted by the Institute of Cetacean Research, a nonprofit research organization overseen by Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

An official from the Japanese Coast Guard said the deployment of guards this year to protect the fleet from obstruction by anti-whaling activists was the largest yet, but declined to give exact numbers. The Coast Guard had previously provided protection to the fleet for its 2007-08 and 2010-11 hunts.

Last season’s whale hunt in the Southern Ocean was cut short when anti-whaling activists from the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society blocked strikes on the animals. Sea Shepherd said its actions saved 800 whales, and the organization has promised to be back in force this season.

Japan has faced international pressure to curtail its whaling activities. In 2010, Australia initiated proceedings in the International Court of Justice to stop Japanese whaling.

CNN’s Junko Ogura contributed to this report.