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Posted : 2012-07-08 18:11
Updated : 2012-07-08 18:11

Let whales live safely

Seoul should retract whaling plan immediately

Korea’s proposal to resume hunting whales for scientific research has provoked strong protests both at home and abroad.

After most countries reacted angrily to the plan unveiled last week at the annual conference of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in Panama, the government stepped back, saying it would give up its whaling plan if the international organization rejects it. Given the strong backlash that erupted following Seoul’s proposal, it would be reasonable for the government to retreat immediately.

We sympathize with fishermen’s complaints that with the global moratorium on whaling in place since 1986, a growing number of whales have been depleting fish stocks off the Korean Peninsula. The Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries estimates the damage from the ban on whaling at more than 400 billion won a year, alleging that the number of minke whales Korea proposed hunting off its coast has increased to 16,000.

It’s also sad to hear that residents in Ulsan, the center of the nation’s whaling industry on the southeastern coast, were elated at the news for the resumption of whaling. For now, however, Korea has more to lose than to gain by restarting whale hunting.

Korea is seen to be following in the footstep of Japan, which has been under fire for hunting whales in the name of research although the meat from the hunted whales mostly ends up in restaurants, stores and school lunches. Norway and Iceland also hunt whales as do indigenous groups in several countries, as allowed under international rules.

While Korea alleges scientific research for the proposed whaling, environmental activists see it as a ``thinly veiled ruse to conduct commercial whaling.’’ It also appears that Korea’s proposal to confine whaling to its own waters ― unlike Japan that hunts whales in Antarctica ― would hardly win sympathy in the international community.

We also feel it is burdensome to see several countries condemn Korea for its whaling plans. U.S. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell was quoted as saying that Washington remained committed to the moratorium on commercial whaling, noting, ``We’re concerned about South Korea’s announcement that it will begin a lethal scientific research whaling program, and we plan to discuss this with the South Korean government.’’

Australia and New Zealand also voiced strong opposition to Seoul’s move. In particular, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard told a news conference that she was ``very disappointed’’ at the announcement. New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said, ``We think it would be a terrible step in the wrong direction.’’ The two countries reportedly oppose whaling fiercely because of their tourist programs involving whales.

Although Korea outlaws whaling for commercial purposes, it’s well known that there are markets for whale meat in Ulsan and nearby cities, mostly from minke whales that get caught in fishing nets ``by accident’’ or wash ashore. The Korean Federation for Environment Movement says nearly 5,000 whales have been caught since 2000 in such manner. At the same time, more than 100 whales are caught every year through illegal hunting to provide whale meat for about 40 restaurants in Ulsan.

In this environment, we believe that the agriculture ministry announced a hasty decision arbitrarily without sufficiently pooling public opinion. More than anything else, the proposal to resume whaling is anachronistic. The government, for its part, can think of other options such as promoting whale tourism like in Australia and New Zealand.

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