Hunger for whales feeds illegal trade

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Hunger for whales feeds illegal trade

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A fisherman measures the length of a minke whale, which was caught and died in a fish trap on June 3, at a port in Pohang. The 7.6 meter-long (25-foot-long) whale was auctioned for about 17 million won. By Kong Jeong-sik


POHANG, North Gyeongsang - A recent spike in illegal whale hunting - and growing demand for its meat by Korean diners - is forcing the government to decide whether to legalize whale hunts, which are currently banned.

A 7.6-meter (25-foot) long minke whale was dragged to port behind the 25-ton Dongchun earlier this month.

“I found the whale caught in traps I laid out southeast of Daebyeon port in Ulsan,” said the captain of the Dongchun, who asked to be identified by his surname Kim.

“From seeing parts of it bitten off by what looks like sharks, I reckon it was trapped two weeks ago.” The whale was covered in ice for a day before it was auctioned off the next morning at a price of 17.3 million won ($14,400).

According to the Korean Coast Guard, roughly 660 whales were caught each year from 2007 to 2009, with the whales allegedly getting caught in fishing nets and traps set for other marine life. During the same period, 243 minke whales, a bigger cetacean variety, were caught.

Fishermen auction off the meat whenever the whale gets trapped in their nets, and whales can fetch prices of 20 million won each, due to high demand in the area.

“There were only four or five whale meat eateries six years ago in the central area of Ulsan, but now there are around 20,” said Ju Tae-hwa, 59, who runs a whale meat shop in the region.

“Ordinary sushi places and also beer joints are serving whale meat as regular side dishes,” said Jeong Chim-gwi, who belongs to an environmental group in Pohang. “The demand is just growing and whale meat shops are starting to appear in Seoul.”

Thanks to that demand, illegal hunting has been on a rise to meet the growing taste for whale meat.

Last Thursday, police in North Gyeongsang arrested eight men for illegally hunting whales and supplying the meat to restaurants in the area.

They had caught 120 minke whales off the eastern coast from last May, cut them up aboard fishing boats and moved the meat in smaller motorboats, which are not obligated to report port entry and exits.

Kim Ok-mun of the Pohang Coast Guard said boats used for illegal whale hunting are tracked by radar and patrol boats.

There have already been eight cases of illegal whale hunting in Ulsan and Pohang so far this year. That compares to eight last year and 12 in 2007.

Those who are caught hunting whales in Korea are required by law to pay 30 million won in fees or face three years or less in prison.

The Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries contemplated legalizing whale hunting last year but was forced to step back when the Foreign Ministry forcefully opposed the idea, fearing an international backlash, especially with the upcoming G-20 Summit.


By Kang Chan-su [christine.kim@joongang.co.kr]
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21일 아프리카 모로코에서는 제62차 국제포경위원회(IWC)가 열린다. 이번 회의에서는 1986년 이후 금지된 상업적 포경을 다시 허용하느냐를 집중 논의하게 된다. 국제적으로 포경 허용 논란이 가열되자 IWC 의장은 향후 10년간 제한적 포경 허용을 타협안으로 내놓고 있다. 국내에서는 농림수산식품부가 지난해부터 포경 허용 여부를 검토해 왔으나 11월 주요 20개국(G20) 정상회의를 앞두고 국제적 비난을 우려한 외교통상부의 반대로 주춤한 상태다. 정부가 어정쩡한 입장인 사이 고래고기 수요는 늘고 있고 불법 포획도 기승을 부리고 있다.


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