A Japanese government official hit back this week at "vigilante activities" of environmentalists harassing his country's Pacific Ocean drift-net fishing fleet.

Japanese consul Atsushi Oi condemned the Greenpeace group after it displayed in a downtown park a three-milelong net that it seized this summer in the North Pacific,His statement stirred a controversy that also involved the Vancouver city authorities, whom Oi accused of encouraging the enviromentalists.

Greenpeace said Japanese drift nets are destructive because they entangle seabirds, dolphins, sharks and a host of other sea creatures, in addition to the squid they are supposed to catch.

Oi said in a statement that Vancouver city officials should have taken some action against the protesters.

"The Japanese government does not want to believe that Vancouver city officials condoned the display (in the park)," he said.

Oi explained that the Greenpeace vessel Rainbow Warrior had stolen the $30,000 net, part of a 30-mile-long drift net, from a 349-ton Japanese squid-fishing boat.

He also denounced Canadian environmental extremist Paul Watson, whose boat Sea Shepherd II rammed at least two Japanese drift-net vessels this summer.

"Under the name of environmental protection, they should not be allowed to take violent or illegal action," Oi told Reuters.

Vancouver Mayor Gordon Campbell responded by accusing Japan of wrecking the environment. "I think there's no question that this is a new technology that is environmentally destructive," he told Reuters. Campbell added that Canadians were free to protest lawfully.

Radio host Rafe Mair said, "Imagine a sovereign nation, a nation with enormous power, dumping all over a conservationist organization and the city council of this city."

Greenpeace acknowledged that it had "temporarily confiscated" the drift net, but said the net was being returned to Japan.