By Kim Rahn
Dolphins, darlings of zoo goers, are posing a big headache for fishermen along the eastern coast as they eat up fish and disperse shoals.
A growing population of dolphins is damaging the catches, especially of squid and saury, according to fishermen.
“This is high season for squid and saury. But dolphins are eating them up, leaving little for us. Minke whales often come, too, but only one or two appear, while dolphins come in a group of thousands. So they not only eat the fish but also scatter schools of fish,” said Ha Dae-hoon, head of a trawlers’ society in Donghae, Gangwon Province.
Ha took part in a meeting of fishermen and dolphin-related organizations organized by the Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Tuesday.
In the meeting, fishermen claimed the population of dolphins has increased considerably since the state ban in 1986 following the International Whaling Commission’s agreement on commercial whaling of 12 endangered species.
But according to research by the Cetacean Research Institute of the ministry, the population has not jumped as largely as fishermen claim. The institute estimates there are about 69,700 whales and dolphins along the western and eastern coasts, with about 68,000 of them being dolphins.
“It’s true that the number of whales, including minke whales, has grown since the whaling ban. But in the case of dolphins, whalers didn’t catch them before the ban, so we don’t see any grounds for the claim that the dolphin population has soared,” a ministry official said.
But fishermen claim it has increased. “What the institute estimates is different from what fishermen really experience. Fishermen suspect there may be more than 100,000 dolphins,” Ha said.
Since the ban, the number of dolphins and whales accidentally caught by fishermen increased until the mid-2000s, to 606 in 2007 from 222 in 1996, but has remained at similar levels in recent years — 749 in 2008, 656 in 2009 and also 656 in 2010, according to the institute.
The fishermen’s groups have demanded they be allowed to catch dolphins in order to facilitate the catching of other fish and sell the dolphins as well. A dolphin caught by accident is usually sold for 1 million won to whale meat dealers, Ha said.
“We decided to take photos of dolphins that hamper our fishing activities and present them to the government. The photos will prove the damage we are suffering and show the population is so huge that it won’t decrease even if catching them is permitted,” Ha said.
Regarding such claims, the official said a thorough inspection should be made first before deciding on the issue. “If an inspection shows there is an abundant population of dolphins, we may come up with relevant regulations and set an adequate number of the animals to be caught per year. We will also conduct investigations into the damage dolphins are allegedly causing to the fishing industry by the end of 2012,” he said.