ANDREW DARBY July 12, 2012
Australia's Foreign Affairs Minister Bob Carr is seeking to clarify reports that South Korea is backing away from its plans to start scientific whaling.
Australia remains very concerned about the proposal before the meeting with South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan at the East Asian summit later today, a spokesman for Senator Carr told Fairfax.
But if South Korea had decided to revoke its plans, it would be very welcome, Senator Carr told the ABC.
South Korean officials yesterday tried to calm anger over its "research" whaling plans, saying it would be strictly controlled, and raising the prospect that it might be dropped.
In the face of sharp criticism domestically, and from countries such as Australia, the Korean government emphasised the program would be science-based, and the sale of meat prohibited.
The government last week surprised the International Whaling Commission with an announcement that it would draw up plans for a research take of an unspecified number of minke whales off South Korea's coast.
Minkes are already taken as "bycatch" in Korean fishing nets, and the government in Seoul is attempting to stamp out an illegal harpoon hunt.
The announcement at the IWC meeting in Panama City drew criticism from nations that oppose Japanese scientific whaling as a thinly disguised commercial venture.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard called for an immediate diplomatic protest, which is understood to have been made in Seoul. New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said it was a terrible step in the wrong direction.
In South Korea, news media editorials rounded on the government, and some environmental protesters took to the streets.
Last night, the South Korean Ministry of Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries attempted to clarify its plans.
A ministry official told the Yonhap news agency that South Korea would prohibit the sale of meat taken in the research.
"We have from the very beginning said the meat from scientific whaling will not find its way to the market," the unidentified official said.
The ministry said in a press release that South Korean scientists would devise their research plan in close co-operation with the IWC's scientific committee.
"Even if the government decides to submit a report of its whaling plans to the IWC in the future, whether the country actually resumes whaling for scientific research will depend on international regulations and procedures and will fully respect the recommendations of the IWC's Scientific Committee," the statement said.
Kang Joon-seok, head of the ministry's fishery policy bureau, told reporters: "But if there is a way to achieve the goal of such a scientific research without catching whales, [the country] may consider such alternative means."
However the officials also said there was a need to reduce whale numbers, which they blamed for consuming too many fish.
They said the country's scientific whaling would not begin at least until after a IWC Scientific Committee meeting set to be held in South Korea in May 2013.