South Korea Decides to Scrap Whale Meat Factory

ULSAN, South Korea, June 15, 2005 (ENS) - The city of Ulsan has reportedly chosen not to build a proposed whale and dolphin meat processing factory. The news surprised and delighted local and international environmental campaigners gathered in the city in advance of the International Whaling Commission meetings taking place here this month.

Greenpeace and the Korean Federation for Environment Movement (KFEM) issued a statement calling the South Korean government and the city of Ulsan "courageous" for deciding not to build the factory.

Construction was supposed to start later this year in the Jangsangpo district of Ulsan. It was to be built next to a Cetacean Research Centre and the new Jangsangpo Whale Museum in Ulsan.

The Korean Fisheries Ministry had said this plant was "a check-point for dealing with whale carcasses in an environment-friendly and sanitary manner."

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Inflatable whale tails demonstrate the campaigners resistance to whaling at the site of a proposed whale meat factory. (Photo © Greenpeace/Natalie Behring)
But Greenpeace and KFEM mounted a campaign against construction of the factory which they called a "Whale Embassy occupation." Volunteers from Austria, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Columbia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Slovakia, the UK, and the USA have been occupying the site of the proposed factory since April 7.

The city announced its decision in a round-about manner, apparently to avoid publicly giving in to the demands of environmental campaigners.

An article in "The Hankyoreh" newspaper Tuesday said, "Sources confirmed on June 14 that the city recently conveyed its position to Greenpeace that if Greenpeace stopped saying that Korea was support whaling, the city would not go out of its way to build the facility in Jangsangpo."

Greenpeace is asking that the city put its decision in writing, a request that has kept tension between the city and the environmentalists on high.

According to the same newspaper report, a city official said, "It is unprecedented that the city produces an official document confirming its decision for an NGO. People may view such document as a sign that the city has changed its policy in the face of outside pressure. So putting the decision in writing is unthinkable."

Jansangpo was a Korean whaling center before the ongoing moratorium on commercial whaling was imposed by the International Whaling Commission in 1986. Local businesses had asked the city to build the facility to boost the economy. The city had planned to spend 500 million won on facility including a sewage treatment plant, the newspaper said, but had trouble raising the funding.

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The Greenpeace and KFEM Whale Embassy building (Photo courtesy Greenpeace)
When Greenpeace called the facility a whale meat factory on its website, the city was embarrassed as the international community began to view Korea as a pro-whaling nation.

Oh Young Ae from Ulsan KFEM said, "Greenpeace is suspicious of Korea, because Korea has the second largest bycatch numbers only after Japan. Without an official document confirming the revocation of the construction plan, Greenpeace will not remove 'whalemeat factory' from its website."

Greenpeace is indeed suspicious of Korea's pro-whaling intentions. "Scientific evidence shows that whales are in serious decline in Korean waters, because of overfishing and high incidents of 'accidental' by-catch, amongst other threats," the group said today in a statement.

"In 2003 alone, Korea 'accidentally' caught in excess of 84 whales, compared to less than five per year in non-whaling nations. Dead whales are sold for prices up to US$100,000 on the legal whale meat market," Greenpeace said.

"We're here to sound the alarm that whales are in grave danger. These plans could be the first step on the road towards a resumption of the whaling industry," said Jim Wickens, Greenpeace International oceans campaigner, speaking from the protest camp the day it was established.

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Korean girl at the Greenpeace and KFEM demonstration against the whale meat processing factory. (Photo courtesy Greenpeace)
"Why would the South Korean government invest in a brand new whale and dolphin meat processing factory unless itís already decided to rebuild its whaling industry? Let them deny if itís not true," Wickens said.

Today Greenpeace said that by scrapping the planned whale meat factory, the South Korean government "is showing that it does not support whaling, and it does not wish to follow in the footsteps of the Japanese government in their determination to destroy the world's dwindling numbers of whales."

"We hope that this move towards whale protection will be extended to the IWC, and that the South Korean government will now vote in favor of whale protection and vote against a resumption of commercial whaling."

The IWC official meeting opens June 20 and continues through June 24. It is expected to center on the conflict between pro-whaling nations such as Japan, Norway and Iceland, who want to resume commercial whaling, and anti-whaling nations such as Australia, New Zealand and the United States, who want the moratorium left in place.

Committee meetings are taking place all this week - the Working Group on Whale Killing Methods and Associated Welfare Issues, the Conservation Committee, the Infractions Sub-committee, the Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling Sub-committee, the Budgetary Sub-committee, the Finance and Administration Committee, and the Revised Management Scheme Working Group, which is setting the rules that will govern commercial whaling if the present moratorium is lifted.