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Kill whales to help fishermen? That's South Korea's plan

Australian Customs Service

Japan's whaling fleet already takes minke whales, like this mother and calf, and South Korea wants to do so as well.

When it comes to whaling, South Korea wants what Japan has: a loophole to hunt. Technically, the hunt would be for scientific research, but in reality it would eliminate competition for fishermen complaining about dwindling catches.

The U.S. on Thursday joined the list of nations opposing the move made Wednesday at the International Whaling Commission meeting in Panama.

In its opening statement, the South Korean delegation said the nation plans to use the same loophole in the international ban on whaling that Japan has been using to sustain its whaling fleet and domestic demand for whale meat.

That loophole allows a nation to sell for consumption any whales killed for research into whale biology or population dynamics. 

South Korean fishermen "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," the delegation stated, adding that South Korea, too, had a whaling fleet and market for whale meat before the 1986 ban.

The U.S. delegation responded Thursday via Twitter. "US believes lethal scientific whaling is unnecessary," it tweeted.

Conservationists, for their part, said overfishing, not competition from whales, is responsible for depleted fish stocks around the world.

Anti-whaling activists and a Japanese whaling vessel squared off in a scuffle at sea. Msnbc.com's Dara Brown reports.

Moreover, the minke whales being targeted by South Korea are considered endangered, the World Wildlife Fund said.

"The resumption of whaling by Korea after a quarter of a century would be a huge step back," said Wendy Elliott, who's leading the WWF delegation at the Panama meeting.

"Korea already sells meat from whales caught in fishing gear, and we believe this move is a thinly veiled attempt by Korea to conduct commercial whaling under the guise of scientific research, similar to hunts conducted by Japan in the Southern Ocean whale sanctuary," she added.

While it doesn't need specific permission to start "scientific whaling," South Korea said it had made a formal proposal to the commission's scientific committee.

That group could take a year or so to come up with its advice for South Korea, which is not bound by the recommendations.

Former Australian Environment Minister Ian Campbell, who is now on the board of the anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd, said the organization would "have to get organized to go out to the oceans and save the whales off South Korea," Reuters reported. 

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