Whaling: the other side of the story

Whaling. The first image that comes to mind is the preview of “Whale Wars” on cable TV, the crazy Green Peace guys sparring with government coast guards. So the bearded leader got out on bail, right?

South Korea has recently raised international eyebrows by announcing its intention to allow whaling off its shores for scientific research, stating that the whale population is no longer endangered and that the fishing communities’ livelihood has been negatively affected by the whales themselves. International environmental groups, including Green Peace, have condoned such intent, stating that the whales are still endangered and that the South Korean fishing industry’s livelihood was not hindered by the whale population.

The current issue revolves around whaling for “scientific research purposes”. In this post, I’d like to shift the focus on commercial fishing, and the dichotomy between animal rights and human rights.

I am not familiar with environmental law, and I am no marine biologist or ecologist. I am, however, familiar with the hardship of day-to-day living as a local fisherman in the remote parts of South Korea.

Whales are precious, and we need to ensure that our many endangered species are protected and nurtured. However, human livelihood is more important. Believe it or not, some South Korean fishing communities have been absolutely dependent on commercial whaling for generations. A white-collared lawyer like me can easily condemn and tell them to fish for other species. The demand for other tasty seafood is surely great enough, is it not?

Easier said than done. Commercial whalers in Korea are concentrated only in certain areas, and the market that consumes whale meat is also concentrated in certain areas (to my knowledge and personal experience, whale meat is not universally consumed in Korea, it’s a local delicacy, usually in the southeast part of the peninsula, Kyungsang-do). Although the market may be small, the market still exists, and that market has been the lifeblood for these folks. These fishermen have devoted their entire lives to this type of fishing, following the footsteps of their forefathers. Although I’m no expert, surely, abandoning your sole skill set as a whaler to go after completely new species must be a difficult, if not impossible, task. These fishermen probably lack the monetary and technological resources to make such drastic changes, and I don’t know if the Korean government has the resources or will to come to their aid.

Some people do not have the luxury of worrying about the survival of other species. Some of us live daily worrying about their own personal survival, about putting food in their children’s mouths, about having a tomorrow.

It wouldn’t be fair to not consider their lives as well before we protect the whales.

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