Whaling in Korea: Some explanation
Report from the WDCS Team at IWC 64 Wednesday evening:
Wednesday evening: many delegates have been drawn to the NGO’s reception – free food, alcohol, dancing and the opportunity to be lobbied by your favourite NGO friends: who could resist? Evidently many delegates from the whaling nations. [Although I do think the cheese and bananas dish may have been a mistake.]
But whilst we are enjoying some pretty little cakes artfully arranged in the shape of the star-spangled banner on this July 4th, we are also reflecting on the difficult and traumatic day that we have had today. Korea’s intention to begin scientific whaling on the endangered Sea of Japan stock has come into sharp focus today – although it has been painfully difficult to follow the debate as agenda items became tangled and Korea ended up making its case after everyone else had discussed it.
For clarity and to help both our readers (and all the other NGOs and Commissioners sampling this blog) follow what this really means, it is important to appreciate that there is no way Korea can hunt whales near its shores without killing animals from the genetically-distinct population known as the Sea of Japan stock (or J stock) and that is why such a plan is entirely unacceptable by any application of international conservation norms.
And let us also look at what exactly Korea has said in its opening statement released earlier this week because it may also bring some clarity:
“Historically, Korea’s whaling took place in the form of subsistence fishing for food, similar to Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling (ASW). It is reported that 35 species are living around Korean Peninsula. In the 1970s and 1980s up to the Moratorium, for example, about 1,000 minke whales were captured annually around the Korean peninsula. However, the long coastal whaling tradition for livelihood and nutritional purposes was suspended in 1986 in compliance with the IWC decision. At the time, the Korean government had to enforce the whalers to scrap all the whaling vessels completely, promising that they would be able to resume whaling upon the recovery of the resources. With this, the Ulsan community has long been waiting for the IWC to lift the ban for more than a quarter of a century. Good faith and pacta sunt servanda [agreements must be kept] constitute the two fundamental principles of international relations. …The Republic of Korea has been respecting and strictly implementing the Commission’s polices and decisions. Illegal whaling has been strictly banned and subject to strong punishment.…It has been also reported that the minke whale population in the north Pacific has recovered considerably to the level maintained before the Moratorium. As a result, fishermen in this area are consistently calling for limited whaling. This is because they are experiencing disturbances in their fishing activities due to frequent occurrences of cetaceans in their fishing grounds and an increasing number of minke whales are eating away large amount of fish stocks which should be consumed by human being. We therefore hope that this Commission will set in motion the review procedure as a matter of urgency to reinstate traditional coastal whaling for the future of the IWC.
Since 2001, the Korean government has been conducting a non-lethal sighting survey of the whale population to assess the status of the stock in Korean waters. But it has turned out that this survey alone cannot identify the different whale stocks and has delayed the proper assessment of the resources. It also cannot correctly identify the feeding habits of these animals and thus the impact of the whale population on the fisheries resources as a whole.
In order to meet Korean fishermen’s request and make up for the weak point in a non-lethal sighting survey, the Korean government is currently considering conducting whaling for scientific research in accordance with Article VIII of the Convention. The proposed scientific research program is designed to analyze and accumulate biological and ecological data on the minke whales migrating off the Korean peninsula. This research program will provide more comprehensive and detailed scientific information on the stocks and their interaction with other stocks will be more available. The Korean government is planning to submit research plan to the next Scientific Committee in due course. I hope that the research plan will be given the highest consideration at the next Scientific Committee meeting of the IWC.”